TRENTON — Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, as part of a coalition of 19 Attorneys General and the State of Colorado, today urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to reject the addition of a proposed citizenship question to the 2020 decennial Census.
In a multi-state letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the coalition objects to adding a citizenship question to the census on grounds that it threatens the fair representation of states with large immigrant communities in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funds for programs like Medicaid.
“Notwithstanding the Trump Administration’s rhetoric as four other census directors have recognized, we don’t need a citizenship question on the census,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The reality is that, as four prior census directors have recognized, in the current national climate a citizenship question will cause great consternation and discourage participation in the census. That lack of participation will inevitably have far-reaching, negative effects.”
Under the Constitution, the federal Census Bureau has an obligation to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.”
However, the multi-state letter signed by Grewal notes, adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census – an idea four prior census directors appointed by Presidents from both parties have advised against – is expected to limit participation in the census among immigrants. That lack of participation will inevitably result in a population undercount that will disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities, the coalition asserts.
(Non-citizens are counted in the Census for purposes of federal funds, the apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts.)
The coalition letter was led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. In addition to Attorney General Grewal on behalf of New Jersey, the letter was signed by the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and the Governor of the State of Colorado.
On December 12, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau include a citizenship question on the 2020 census form sent to every household in the United States, even though the Census is supposed to count all persons—citizens and non-citizens alike.
The Department of Justice argued that the collection of such information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Yet as the Attorneys General explain in today’s letter, the Justice Department’s proposal would have precisely the opposite effect by driving down participation in immigrant communities—a concern that is even more acute in today’s political climate. The resulting undercount would deprive immigrant communities of fair representation when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn.
To the extent that the Voting Rights Act requires a calculation of the number of eligible voters in a given jurisdiction, the Census Bureau provides an adequate—and far less intrusive—source of citizenship information based on sampling, including the American Community Survey.
The coalition’s letter emphasizes the irreparable harm that will result from inaccuracies in the 2020 Census caused by inclusion of a citizenship question.
The decennial census is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, and to determine the total number of delegates each state receives in the Electoral College. As a result, an undercount of population in states that are home to large immigrant communities will impair fair representation, a principle fundamental to the fabric of our democracy.
In addition, hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds are directly tied to demographic information obtained through the census, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and Title I funding for local educational agencies. Consequently, inaccurate counts can potentially deprive states of much-needed funds designed to protect low-income and vulnerable communities.
The letter also explains that the threat to the accuracy of the 2020 Census is magnified by the extreme lateness of the Justice Department’s proposal.
The Census Bureau is considering the addition of a citizenship question only three months before it is required to send a list of final questions to Congress. This short timeframe is not nearly enough to adequately test the full impact of the citizenship question, as required by the Census Bureau’s standards on data collection. These concerns are heightened by the Bureau’s already precarious fiscal position. The Bureau is dramatically underfunded, and the additional of a citizenship question would significantly increase the overall cost of completing the Census.
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