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Why the stakes are high for Cook County with Supreme Court’s 2020 Census case

Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census. Critics say the citizenship question will inhibit responses from immigrant-heavy communities that are worried the information will be used to target them for possible deportation. | AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a question about citizenship will be allowed on the 2020 Census, and early indicators suggest that the question will stand. If so, Cook County must redouble its efforts to ensure we have a full and complete census.

While we don’t yet know for sure how the Supreme Court will rule, what we do know is that many see the citizenship question as a barrier to participation. And for Cook County, this is particularly concerning because we are home to some of the hardest-to-count communities.

Populations that historically have been undercounted include low-income, people of color and immigrants. According to the latest census estimates, approximately 32 percent of Cook County’s population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods.

Given the recent news that the county lost more population than any other U.S. county between 2017-2018, we really can’t afford an undercount. The population loss poses a socioeconomic challenge to our leaders in reversing this trend and they can’t do that if they don’t have a complete picture of who lives here.

That’s why the stakes for the Supreme Court’s decision are so high.

The potential of the citizenship question to depress census participation and harm underserved communities prompted a diverse array of groups to file friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to strike down the question. The Joyce Foundation signed onto one of those briefs because of the societal harm posed by an undercount. Regardless of the Supreme court’s decision, county leaders and residents alike must be proactive in getting a complete 2020 census.

We have to get the word out to our friends and neighbors about the importance of participating in the census.

How do you do that? Pledge to be counted. Volunteer with IL Count Me In 2020, a coalition working to spread the word about the importance of a complete count. Or apply to be a census worker.

Carrie Davis, Democracy Program Director, The Joyce Foundation

SEND LETTERS TO letters@suntimes.com: Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Stop housing discrimination against people with criminal records

This week, the Cook County Board of Commissioners will have the chance to expand access to stable housing for people with arrest and conviction records. This is a critical opportunity to give people reentering society the chance to rebuild from a strong foundation, reduce recidivism, and strengthen our communities.

People with arrest or conviction records, like everyone else, deserve a place to call home. But, it can be almost impossible for them to find an apartment or house to rent.

According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in 3 Americans has an arrest record before age 25. In Cook County alone, that translates to more than 1 million residents with a record that can be a barrier to finding a stable home. This affects their families and our communities; the Illinois Department of Corrections reports that 62 percent of people in prison in our state are parents to minor children.

The Just Housing Amendment, sponsored by Commissioner Brandon Johnson, aims to reduce unfair housing discrimination by limiting the types of criminal history that landlords can consider, such as arrests, juvenile records and expunged/sealed records. Housing providers would be required to conduct an individual assessment of an applicant with a conviction and consider factors such as the nature of the offense and how long ago it occurred.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners should vote to this amendment without hesitation.

With the Just Housing amendment in place, Cook County will take a serious step forward on the path towards meaningful criminal justice reform.

Gianna Baker, Maywood