Utah’s Latino legislators blast plans for Census to ask if respondents are U.S. citizens

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune ACLU attorney Marina Lowe speaks as House Democratic Representatives and Utah Latino Leaders, along with community activists, law enforcement, and others spoke against recent orders by President Donald Trump on immigration and refugee status. The press event took place at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building, Thursday January 26, 2017. At rear are Rep. Angela Romero, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Sen. Luz Escamilla, and Rep. Mark A. Wheatley.

Utah’s Latino legislators blasted plans to ask in the 2020 Census if respondents are U.S. citizens — arguing that will scare undocumented immigrants into not participating, preventing accurate counts of all the state’s residents.

“If this decision is allowed to occur, likely 100,000 Utah residents will opt not to participate,” warned Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, who also is co-chairwoman of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) Latino Voting Task Force.

“This could have terrible consequences for Utah such as skewing our reapportionment planning, losing out on long-term federal funding, and hurting morale for Utahns overall,” she said. “We will not allow political interference and racial bias to put into question the accuracy of our state’s population count.”

Chavez-Houck earlier this month passed through the Legislature HCR12, which calls on Congress to ensure a “complete and accurate 2020 Census” amid worries that “ethnic and immigrant communities are also at risk of being undercounted.”

“The people of our state demand that all of us be counted in the Census, just like the Constitution explicitly states,” Chavez-Houck said.

“This is blatant political tampering with our nation’s critical population counting process,” said Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, the first vice president of NHCSL.

“I join NHCSL in calling on the administration to reverse course,” Romero said, “and if they ignore the pleas from experts around the country, then Congress has a duty to protect the integrity of our Census.”

Also joining in the criticism of the citizenship question were Rep. Mark Archuleta Wheatley, D-Murray, and Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City. All are members of the NHCSL, and they echoed criticism issued by that national group.

“The Constitution of the United States guarantees that every person shall be counted, and we intend to fight this decision to the very end so that this sacred constitutional provision is respected,” said NHCSL President Carmelo Ríos, a commonwealth senator in Puerto Rico.

“Our state and local governments depend on having the most accurate data possible for the apportionment of our districts, for the formulas several federal agencies and Congress use to appropriate taxpayer resources,” he said, “and to have a sound system of counting every person in this country, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.”