As President Donald Trump’s administration continues to pursue adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, some advocates for immigrants in Hawaii worry that the Aloha State could be disproportionately affected if Trump is successful.

Trump is in the midst of a legal fight over the issue. Last week — in the wake of unfavorable court rulings — the administration said it would begin printing the census without the question, but a day later Trump pledged to continue to pursue the issue. Attorney General William Barr said Monday that Trump can legally add the question despite a Supreme Court ruling.

National advocates for immigrants say that would discourage immigrants from responding to the census, lowering census participation and skewing the data. Local advocates are concerned the effect would be magnified in Hawaii, where the percentage of immigrants is above the national average and census participation is already low.

President Donald Trump points at the media before boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in 2017. He said last week it’s “fake news” that his administration is dropping the citizenship question.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Critics of Trump’s proposal are also worried the citizenship question could enable Republicans to redraw political districts to exclude non-citizens.

Dina Shek, executive director of the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawaii, said redistricting is not a big concern in blue Hawaii but still fears the citizenship question could deter immigrants from participating in the census.

Hawaii’s response rate to the 2010 census was 68%, already below the national average of 74%. The state’s 2000 census response rate was 60%.

Participation is important because census data is used as the basis for federal funding for programs such as Medicare and low-income housing tax credits.

“Intimidating even handfuls of people from participating in the census really has huge repercussions on resources,” Shek said.

Sandy Ma, director of Common Cause Hawaii and an immigrant from Taiwan, fears adding a citizenship question means the census could be used to target immigrant communities. Last month Trump threatened to deport millions of people and his administration is under fire for poor conditions in migrant camps along the U.S. Southwest U.S. border. The Washington Post reported that the 1940 census was used to target Japanese Americans for internment during World War II.

“It’s especially problematic for Hawaii given how many foreign-born people there are in Hawaii,” Ma said. Hawaii has the sixth-largest foreign-born population in the nation and is ranked ninth for its non-English-speaking population, Ma said.

She doesn’t think citizenship should factor into federal funding.

“Everyone uses roads, everyone travels on federal highways,” she said. “It really doesn’t make sense that you have to know if you’re a citizen to get a portion of federal dollars.”

Even if the citizenship question doesn’t make it on the census, Shek says that the proposal, combined with Trump’s other immigration proposals, has a chilling effect on immigrants, even those here legally. Some of her clients who have strong legal protections, like long-term residency, have been increasingly worried about getting deported since Trump’s election, Shek said.

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