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Letter to Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce - Request to Add Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census


Location: Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Ross:

We write to strongly oppose the Department of Justice's request to add a question regarding citizenship status to the 2020 decennial census. This duplicative, unnecessary effort seriously threatens the accuracy and integrity of a census, which has tremendous consequences for our country. We urge you to reject this request from the Department of Justice and focus on the goal of conducting a comprehensive, accurate, and cost effective decennial census in 2020.

The addition of a citizenship question, along with the other recently reported actions of pending and/or already appointed unqualified political operatives to the Census to positions that have never been political, calls into question whether this administration is serious about an accurate count or is instead actively working to hurt the integrity of the Census and ultimately discount minority voters.

As you know, the distribution of over $600 billion in annual federal funding and the redistricting of legislative seats for the next decade depend upon a well-executed census. If a citizenship question were to be added to the 2020 questionnaire, we would likely see a significantly dropped head count of already-undercounted minority groups -- particularly immigrants, non-citizens, and Latinos. This attack on civil rights would only serve to suppress the minority vote, drop the numbers necessary to apportion federal funding, and push immigrant communities even deeper into the shadows.

The December 12 letter from DOJ General Counsel Arthur Gary to Dr. Ron Jarmin of the Census Bureau argues that further information on citizenship is "critical to the Department's enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting." We find this argument to be disingenuous considering questions on citizenship have been included on the American Community Survey (ACS), distributed on a monthly basis for the last 13 years. The information derived from the ACS has long been effectively utilized to address voting rights abuses across the country.

Additionally, the final census questions that are due to be submitted to Congress by April 1, 2018, will have undergone an extensive screening process constituting years of focus groups and field tests to ensure a high response rate coupled with effective data collection. Including a new question this late in the process allows no time for testing or the correction of wording problems, and only serves to increase the risk to a census that has already experienced massive cost increases and heightened levels of public mistrust.

New qualitative research from the Census Bureau confirms that survey respondents and focus group participants are expressing an "unprecedented" level of concern regarding the confidentiality of the data they provide to the Bureau and whether that data will be improperly shared with other government agencies, especially immigration officials. While we recognize that Title 13 of the U.S. Code has strict protections against the use of census data for law enforcement, it provides little reassurance to those who have seen their loved ones detained and/or deported under this administration. Pretesting respondents were observed explicitly falsifying data or leaving household members off survey rosters for fear of incrimination. These trends suggest that the addition of a citizenship question could exacerbate confidentiality concerns and severely undermine accuracy and initial response levels. This, in turn, would increase the cost of the census by hundreds of millions of dollars in non-response follow-up, the most expensive component of the decennial census operation.

Mr. Secretary, you have testified before Congress regarding the challenges that the 2020 Decennial faces; adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census will destabilize and politicize the decennial process at a time when we can least afford it.

As Congress has not provided you with the additional funds that you requested, threatening the already fragile response rate will only jeopardize data accuracy and increase cost to the American taxpayer who will eventually foot the bill when the costs skyrocket because of this proposal. We strongly urge to you to show us that you are committed to an accurate Census by denying the Department of Justice's request and working to ensure a full, fair, and accurate decennial census.

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