San Antonio may be at risk for an undercount in the 2020 decennial census, an analysis by the Rivard Report found. Following last month’s decision by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to add a new citizenship question, state and local demographers worry the changes will deter people in areas with large Hispanic populations from responding.

It’s not yet known, to the public anyway, what the final question will be. Some groups, especially immigrant advocates, are concerned that responding to the question could lead to deportation, though it’s unclear if that would be an intended or unintended outcome.

U.S. residents are required to fill out the survey by law, though the bureau has not prosecuted non-responders since 1970. The results of the census are published anonymously to the public, but the census itself is not anonymous: respondents are asked for their name, social security number, and address on the questionnaire.

Every 10 years, new census data is used to determine how congressional districts will be drawn. The data also determines how more than $600 billion in federal funding is allocated to states for over 100 programs like medicaid, food vouchers, head start programs, Pell Grants, and transportation projects, among others.

The 2020 census will also include an option to take the survey online, raising further concerns that citizens who don’t have access to the internet will not participate.

If the changes result in fewer responses, they could threaten the state’s projected gain of three congressional seats in Congress. Texas won an additional four seats due to population gains counted in the 2010 Census.

San Antonio ranks 24th out of 155 metropolitan areas for the largest population of unauthorized immigrants according to a recent Pew Research Center study. With a 62 percent Hispanic population, and nearly 20 percent of residents lacking broadband internet at home, according to American Community Survey estimates, much of San Antonio is at risk to be undercounted.

About 25 percent of Bexar County’s population live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods according to a recent City University of New York study.

In the visualization above, each circle represents one census tract in Bexar County. We graphed all census tracts by the likelihood of residents to respond to the census, and the percentage of hispanics living in those tracts. You can also filter the graph by each tract’s level of broadband access, to discern additional patterns.

How likely residents in a census tract are to respond to the decennial census is measured by the “low response score” determined by the bureau following the 2010 census. Based on the likelihood that residents will not respond to the survey due to a variety of factors, the bureau found that most of the state’s residents live in areas exceeding the national average for such scores. Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released a map of its findings.

“It’s feasible that [the citizenship question] will have some impact on hard-to-count populations,” said State Demographer Lloyd Potter, noting that a citizenship question has been on the American Community Survey, administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, since 2005.

Potter said that the introduction of the question at the last minute and the politicization of the 2020 census by the media could skew results.

“We’re basically throwing in a question at the end that hasn’t gone through a rigorous testing and assessment process,” he said. “It just messes with standards that have been pretty well established … I think that’s the thing that I’m most concerned about.”

Josué Romero, 20, a Southwest School of Art student, was given temporary status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. After being released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under charges of marijuana possession, Romero has since returned to coursework and is now establishing a career as an artist.

Romero, who will be filling out the census for the first time in 2020, described facing a choice to risk suspicion from the government by answering the citizenship question or to participate, and represent a community needing both resources and recognition.

“I feel comfortable participating,” he said, “because it does more for our representation in the state and the greater community. I think, while this is a bureaucratic process, it is a way to establish my place in an affirmative way, and to challenge those political agendas that are being pushed.

“How do I give myself firm ground to stand on when it’s not given to me?” he asked. “I have to make that for myself.”

The decennial census will be held on April 1, 2020.

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Emily Royall

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.