The 2020 Census at Stake: Department of Commerce Announces Inclusion of Citizenship Question

The 2020 Census at Stake: Department of Commerce Announces Inclusion of Citizenship Question

On March 27th, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that a question asking for citizenship status will be added to the 2020 Census. This change was in response to a request made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice, which claimed that the DOJ needs census block level citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act. A citizenship question, however, is already included in the Census’s American Community Survey. The main consequence of such a question on the 2020 Census questionnaire in our current political climate would be increased fear and distrust toward the Federal Government within immigrant communities. This would decrease the Census response rate and lead to a significant undercounting of immigrant populations.

The Federal Government has a constitutional responsibility to conduct a fair and accurate count of every person living in the United States. The citizenship question is not in line with this goal, and the impacts of undercounting would be felt for the subsequent 10 years. The decennial census determines the redistricting process to ensure equal political representation and fair federal budget allocations. The Census is also essential for businesses and non-profits that use demographic data for research and operational purposes. SAAPRI itself was founded on the idea of using research to understand and advocate for the South Asian American community, and our organization relies heavily on analysis of Census data. For any substantive research and advocacy for immigrant communities it is crucial that Census data continue to be reliable and accurate.

SAAPRI strongly opposes the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census and calls on Congress to reverse this decision. The Census needs to maintain accurate data and ensure that respondents’ data remains confidential. Skewed or politicized Census data will disproportionately affect immigrants and is an affront to the values of equality, fairness, and truth. There has been bipartisan and mainstream opposition to the Department of Justice’s request, with a wide range of stakeholders in agreement that a census that is successful across all communities in non-negotiable.

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