DORAL, Florida — In the heart of this South Florida city, you can choose between a Cuban restaurant, a Mexican coffee shop and a Peruvian gastrobar.
But the driving force behind this ever-expanding suburb crammed between Miami International Airport and the Everglades is the flood of Venezuelans who are buying and building up seemingly every square inch of it. Just about anybody you meet there has moved from the embattled South American country, or is visiting from there.
“Doral, the best city in Venezuela,” joked Aimee Sakkal, 60, who lives in Caracas but last week was visiting her three sons who recently moved to Doral.
Reflecting its international charm, Doral is a national standout for another reason: Non-citizens make up a relatively huge part of its population.
About 38 percent of Doral’s residents are non-citizens – more than five times the national average of 7 percent, according to the 2013-2017 American Community Survey, which is conducted by the Census Bureau. More than 22 million non-citizens lives in the U.S., the survey found.
Some other communities where at least one quarter of the population are non-citizens include Union City, West New York, Plainfield and Elizabeth, New Jersey; Huntington Park, Bell Gardens, Santa Ana and Salinas, California; and Miami and Hialeah, Florida.
Non-citizens – and finding where they live – has been very much on the mind of the Trump administration.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is attempting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census because his department claims the American Community Survey does not provide enough geographic granularity to prosecute violations of the Voting Rights Act.
Ross wants non-citizen information down to the census block, which can be the size of one city block and contain a handful to several hundred people. The census has population data for more than 11 million census blocks nationally.
Critics disagree with the government’s case, arguing that the citizenship question is clearly a political move meant to dissuade people in minority communities – especially those where many undocumented immigrants live – from participating in the census.
Different groups have challenged the government’s plan and they have won in three different U.S. District Courts: in California, New York and Maryland. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case on Tuesday.
In Doral, Edgar Chavez, 45, a Venezuelan-born real estate agent who lives in the community with his wife and two sons, says its common sense that people with undocumented immigrants in their families or their homes will refuse to participate in the 2020 census.
“These people are scared to get on a bus to Orlando because (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents get on board and ask for papers,” he said. “Imagine when they get a knock on the door.”
The last time the Census Bureau asked everyone in the census about their citizenship status was in 1950. After then and until 2010, the citizenship question was asked only on the long form, a census subset that went to only 1 out of every 6 households.
Beginning with the 2010 census, the long form was dropped in favor of the American Community Survey, which asks about citizenship. The survey goes to 1 in 38 households each year and the lowest geographic level reported is the block group level (a geography that optimally contains about 1,500 people).
In his request to add a citizenship question, Arthur Gary, the Justice Department’s general counsel, wrote that the ACS data only leaves a 90% confidence level, “and the margin of error increases as the sample size – and, thus, the geographic area – decreases.”
But a broad group of experts, including those currently working in the Census Bureau, have disagreed, arguing that whatever improvements to the data attained through a house-by-house census count would be undercut by the fact that many minorities will not respond to a census with a citizenship question.
Five former census directors, who served under Republican and Democratic administrations, filed a legal brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the “last-minute” inclusion of a citizenship question has not been properly researched and will lead to a dramatic undercount of the U.S. population.
George Hazel, judge for the U.S. District Court in Maryland, concluded that current-day census officials feel the same way. In his ruling blocking the citizenship question, the judge wrote: “The Census Bureau repeatedly, consistently, and unanimously recommended against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.”
Some former Justice Department officials share similar concerns.
Vanita Gupta, who oversaw the Civil Rights Division at Justice for three years under former President Barack Obama, said she never heard a single person in her department discuss the need for more detailed data.
“There hasn’t been a single case that the Justice Department has not been able to bring, or prevail on, that anyone can point to that would have turned out differently with this data,” she said.
John Gore, who served as the acting director of the Civil Right Division last year under Trump, conceded during a deposition in the ongoing lawsuit that in the five decades since the Voting Rights Act passed, nobody in the Justice Department had ever requested a citizenship question be added to the decennial census. He also said he couldn’t identify any Voting Rights Act case that the department lost because it didn’t have enough citizenship data.
Dale Ho, an ACLU attorney who is leading one of the lawsuits challenging Ross’ decision, said the same holds true for private organizations that regularly file lawsuits to uphold the Voting Rights Act.
“We haven’t needed it for 54 years of successful Voting Rights Act enforcement, and there’s nothing that Justice or Commerce has identified that’s changed that suddenly necessitates that,” Ho said.
Even one of the people cited by Ross in his memo announcing the citizenship question has since come out against the citizenship question.
The commerce secretary noted his staff had consulted with the Nielsen Company, best known for its “Nielsen ratings” that have tracked American consumers for nearly 100 years.
Ross argued that fears of non-citizens refusing to participate in a census that included a citizenship question were misguided because officials at Nielsen had added equally sensitive questions to some of its surveys and did not see “any appreciable decrease in response rates.”
On April 1, Nielsen lawyers wrote in a brief filed with the Supreme Court that they do not endorse Ross’ conclusions and adamantly oppose a citizenship question on the census.
The company depends on knowing as much as possible about where people live, what they watch and how they spend their money. Its lawyers argued that a citizenship question on the census would unquestionably hurt the accuracy of the census by dramatically undercounting minority communities.
Such an undercount, Nielsen lawyers argued, would hurt the accuracy of Nielsen’s product, and hurt decisions made by hospitals, banks, utility companies, and countless businesses that rely on accurate census data to tailor their products and plan future expansions.
“Such mistaken business determinations will harm not only consumers in America, but the American companies that serve them,” the Nielsen lawyers wrote.