2020 Census question may prompt undocumented immigrants to avoid count

HOUSTON – People responding to the 2020 U.S. Census will be asked whether they're U.S. citizens for the first time since 1950.

The Trump administration said the question is designed to protect voter rights and get a better snapshot of who is living in the country.

California is mounting a legal challenge -- and other states are expected to join the fight because that question may not only result in an undercount of the population but a dramatic shift in the allocation of funding and political representation.

"People are going to be fearful to participate," Cesar Espinosa said.

Espinosa, of FIEL Houston, said concerns over a question of citizenship status on the 2020 Census could lead to repercussions that extend beyond the immigrant community.

"If we don't take undocumented population into account, then it could throw off other services and funding for programs, schools, things like that," he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the move.

"We've contained this question that's provided data that's necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters, specifically to help us comply with the Voting Rights Act," Sanders said.

Critics are saying the move is no more than a ploy to target immigrant communities.

"If we ask a question that would make people feel uncomfortable or not trust the process of the Census, then the numbers could be skewed," Espinosa said.

The 2010 Census showed Harris County leading the nation among growth within the Hispanic population.

Even without the citizenship question, Espinosa said his organization faced a challenge getting people to participate, documented or not.

"We are encouraging people to continue to participate. We're going to be continuing, although our job now becomes harder, because people may be fearful or not may not be as willing to participate because of the citizenship question," he said.