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:
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.
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.
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.
Source: Census Bureau via Rockefeller Institute of Government