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Census Citizenship Question Could Hurt Tech's Public Policy Efforts

Lyft and Uber/photos by Jason Doiy and Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

Lyft and Uber/photos by Jason Doiy and Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

A controversial census question on citizenship status could impact California tech companies' public policy, representation and recruitment as its fate heads to the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday.

Silicon Valley companies Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. have already publicly opposed the Trump administration's proposed 2020 census question, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" Critics say the question could dissuade noncitizens from completing the census, leading to inaccurate data with underreporting in immigrant communities.

The Mercury News reported in January 2018 that more than 70 percent of Silicon Valley's workforce is foreign-born. Fewer counted residents could mean fewer federal resources and representation for Silicon Valley; seats in the House of Representatives are reapportioned after the decennial census.

"It's an indirect effect that the undercounting can have on the political power of businesses in states with high immigrant populations such as California that are looking for federal initiatives, programs, processes that could be favorable to their businesses," said Jorge Lopez, a shareholder in Littler Mendelson's global mobility and immigration group.

Fewer representatives could be bad news for companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, which currently face tough critics in Washington, D.C. Companies may need to rethink their public policy approach, Lopez said, if their area's representation in Congress is diminished.

Underrepresentation could also impact companies' ability to hire the best talent, noted Kelli Duehning, senior counsel in the San Francisco office of Berry Appleman & Leiden. Silicon Valley school districts and other public amenities could see funding cuts if the census undercounts their population.

"Tech companies are competing for the best and the brightest," Duehning said. "Part of getting people to come work for them is not just, 'Hey, we're going to pay you this salary and you get all these benefits and great perks.' A lot of these people have families, so the schools have to be good. … If you have underreporting, the schools are not going to get the funding."

Companies with non-U.S. citizen employees can double-check to ensure their documentation is up to date, accurate and valid, Duehning said, if there are immigration law concerns in-house. But she added "the majority of the companies have a good grasp of what their workforce looks like" when it comes to immigration, so the census might not raise any surprises.

Even if the citizenship question is included, the census "doesn't necessarily tabulate lawful status," Lopez said, and U.S. Census Bureau is "prohibited from sharing its findings with law enforcement."

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