Tagline: Until the Work Is Done
Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census? Equality California says, “No way!”
July 24, 2018 at 12:32 pm

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By Valerie Ploumpis, National Policy Director

When the Trump-Pence Administration proposed adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, we knew what their real intentions were. The Census Bureau hasn’t asked all U.S. households to include their citizenship status when filling out the questionnaire since 1950 — and for good reason. Such a question would discourage immigrant communities and non-citizens from participating in the national count and likely lead to California being underrepresented in Congress and failing to receive a fair share of support from the federal government.

Equality California was quick to send a letter to the Census Bureau, urging them to drop this controversial question for two reasons:

  • Given the current climate of distrust and fear, asking immigrant communities and communities of color — already traumatized by the Administration’s actions — about their citizenship status would result in fewer households filling out the Census survey, especially in diverse states like California;
  • Many members of our LGBTQ community are already identified as “hard to reach,” including young people, people experiencing homelessness, those who are housing-insecure or renters, those living at or below the federal poverty line, people of color and those who are living with disabilities — including HIV and AIDS. Adding a question about citizenship status would make the likelihood that LGBTQ people in non-citizen and mixed-status households would again be even less likely to participate in the Census.

How did this all start?

The citizenship question suddenly emerged in December 2017, when the U.S. Justice Department sent a letter to Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross formally requesting a citizenship question be added to the 2020 Census — for the first time in 70 years. They claimed that this would give the Justice Department greater access to the data it needs to ensure that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is being enforced.

Leaving aside the blatant hypocrisy of such a request coming from the Justice Department — led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has spent his career trying to gut the Voting Rights Act’s very same protections against racial discrimination — Secretary Ross responded to the Department’s letter in March 2018, approving the request.

“I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” Ross wrote. Indeed, he went on, “The citizenship data provided to DOJ will be more accurate with the question than without it, which is of greater importance than any adverse effect that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond.”

While we at Equality California — and a large coalition of civil rights organizations across the country — are outraged by the inclusion of citizenship question on the 2020 Census, we’re also not surprised. Since January 2017, the Trump-Pence Administration has pursued a range of executive orders, laws and policies attacking immigrant communities and tearing families apart, all to fire up their anti-immigrant base.

Trump’s anti-immigrant actions to date

  • A “zero tolerance” policy that has resulted in traumatic separations of children from their parents at the border;
  • Cancellation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) for Dreamers;
  • Termination of Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for 325,000 people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Nepal, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia;
  • Three iterations of the president’s Muslim Ban, in an effort to fulfill his Islamophobic campaign promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the United States;
  • Withdrawal of the ability for victims of domestic violence and drug gangs to apply for refugee status;
  • Legal action against states and municipalities that provide sanctuary status to undocumented people, including California; and
  • Workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which have resulted in widespread detention and deportation.

These actions, of course, are coupled with President Trump’s countless speeches and tweets about building an expensive and ineffective wall across the southern border, dramatic cuts to legal immigration and ending the ‘green card lottery’ — an immigration program designed to increase diversity.

Why did Equality California  join an amicus brief in California challenging the citizenship question?

The stakes for the LGBTQ community in a full and accurate Census in 2020 are very high. Approximately $800 billion in federal dollars are transferred to states based on population annually. If California’s immigrant communities sit out the 2020 Census, the undercount will result in drastic cuts to federal funding we desperately need.

As importantly, the demographic results of the 2020 Census will be used two years later to draw Congressional districts and determine voting representation. Here again, a dramatic undercount of California’s population would hit the Golden State hard and result in our underrepresentation  in Congress.

For this reason, Equality California was pleased to sign onto an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the case State of California and the cities of Los Angeles, Fremont, Long Beach, Oakland, Stockton v. Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, which rebutted the Trump-Pence Administration’s claim that the inclusion of the citizenship question will not suppress response rates or lead to an undercount. The amicus brief also directly countered the government’s contention — which was made “cynically and incorrectly” — that inclusion of the citizenship question is necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

Equality California will continue to fight the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and any rollbacks in data collection.


Top federal assistance programs distributed using census data
Medicaid and other medical assistance $312 billion
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) $71
Medicare Part B physician payments $70
Highway planning and construction $38
Pell grant program for students $30
Federal school lunch program $19
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) $17
Section 8 housing vouchers $16
Title 1 grants to local school districts $14
Grants to states for services for students with special needs $11
Head Start early childhood program $9
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) $6

Source: Census Bureau via Rockefeller Institute of Government


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