The Trump administration’s decision last Monday to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census — already the target of multiple lawsuits and backlash from activists — has also received pushback from Yale students.

The census, conducted every 10 years, is used to determine how many members of the U.S. House of Representatives each state will have, as well as how to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ’59 decided to add the citizenship question after the Justice Department said earlier in the year that it needed more detailed citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Opponents of Ross’ decision say that some undocumented immigrants and members of households with undocumented immigrants may not fill out the census, drastically affecting whose voices are heard in Congress and how funds are apportioned.

“I think it’s a purely political move by the party in office to consolidate power,” said Haci Catalbasoglu ’19, who is the Ward 1 Alder. “As you know, this question will suppress noncitizens from responding to the census, which will result in more House seats being apportioned to states with less noncitizens.”

While some students said they understood the need for more accurate data collection, they also said that the question would lead to a lower overall response rate and skewed voting districts.

“I think it’s a really troubling decision [that] is part of broader pattern that extends beyond President Trump to sort of the direction of political polarization in this country over the past several years,” said Jordan Cozby ’20, the president of Yale College Democrats. “I think it’s really troubling for the direct ramifications it will have on who is represented in Congress, whose voices are heard.”

Benjamin Zollinger ’19, president of the Yale College Republicans, did not respond to request for comment.

Tag Quijano ’21, a member of the Independent Party in the Yale Political Union, said that the citizenship question has “no practical use” for determining voting districts and characterized it as unsubtle “fear mongering.”

Others at Yale are mobilizing to ensure that the upcoming census does not unfairly target specific communities. On March 28, the Rule of Law Clinic at Yale Law School filed a suit representing the NAACP and others against the census bureau, alleging that the next census will cause inequalities in political representation and federal funding for communities of color. The clinic did not file the suit in direct response to the addition of the citizenship question, but the plaintiffs plan to fight “against any plan that effectively turns the census into another form of voter suppression and economic disempowerment in our communities.”

Experts who advise the Census Bureau itself have also opposed the addition of a citizenship question, saying the question is based on “flawed logic” and data collected “in a different political climate, before anti-immigrant attitudes were as salient and consequential.”

Cozby said the addition of the citizenship question follows a pattern of politically motivated policy moves under the Trump administration that target communities of color. President Trump has previously attempted to ban people from seven primarily Muslim countries from traveling to the United States, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to roll back the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were children and teenagers from deportation.

“Immigrants, documented or not, are the backbone of our country,” Catalbasoglu said. “I think the beauty of our country is its democratic system. It’s concerning when the administration takes steps to undermine our democracy.”

Ross added the question days before the April 1 deadline to submit a final list of new census questions to Congress for a review.

Chloe Glass | chloe.glass@yale.edu