Marginalised communities across the United States risk losing access to services if they are not accurately counted on the US Census, Human Rights Watch warned on Thursday, as a deadline to complete the population survey loomed.
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday put on hold a lower court ruling that had ordered the population count be continued until October 31.
Field data collection ends on Thursday, but people have until 5:59am ET (9:59 GMT) Friday to complete the survey online, the US Census Bureau says on its website.
The top court’s decision came after US President Donald Trump’s administration argued that the census bureau needed the data as soon as possible.
But civil rights groups for months have raised concerns about the census, accusing the Trump administration of seeking to politicise the process and curb the participation of racial minorities for political gain.
“An inaccurate count could have devastating effects for some of the country’s most marginalized communities and their ability to access basic education, health, and other services,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday.
“Those most at risk for undercounting include low-income households, those who live in remote areas or who lack internet access, homeless people, Native Americans, Black people, Latinx people, and those who have fear and distrust of the government, including undocumented immigrants.”
The population data gathered through the census, which is conducted every 10 years, is used to allocate $1.5 trillion in federal funding.
The #Census impacts how resources for our communities are allocated.
This is our last chance to shape our community's future for the next 10 years!
Don't miss it, #GetCounted.
— New York Immigration Coalition (@thenyic) October 15, 2020
“The #Census impacts how resources for our communities are allocated,” the New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group, tweeted on Thursday. “This is our last chance to shape our community’s future for the next 10 years!”
The census also informs how congressional districts are divided and therefore can have a huge impact on political representation across the country.
Last month, a US district court rejected an attempt by the Trump administration to disqualify undocumented immigrants from participating in the census.
They're trying to limit the final count of the census so that minority communities, impacted communities, undocumented communities have less time to fill out the census and be counted.
Their exclusion would have influenced how many seats in the US House of Representatives are allocated to each US state – and Trump’s critics, as well as civil rights groups, had accused the US president of trying to politicise the process for his own gain.
The administration had previously abandoned an effort to add a citizenship question to the census, another move that rights groups had argued sought to scare immigrants from participating in the count.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national advocacy group, on Thursday urged Muslims in the US to fill out the census before the deadline expires.
“They’re trying to limit the final count of the census so that minority communities, impacted communities, undocumented communities have less time to fill out the census and be counted,” Robert McCaw, the group’s director of government affairs, said in a Facebook video.
“They want to keep voting districts the size they are and where they are because if it’s seen that minority communities are growing, there’s going to be more voting districts in minority communities,” McCaw said.
“That doesn’t favour who turns out to vote for the Republican Party.”