In March, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHouse panel, Commerce Department reach agreement on census documents China sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony MORE, at the urging of political operatives Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, announced that the Census would be asking for the citizenship status of every person living in the country as part of the 2020 decennial census.
This announcement must be seen for what it is: an unprecedented attempt to undermine the political power and resources of communities of color, immigrant communities, and urban populations throughout the country.
The decennial census is a constitutionally required count of every person living in the United States. It is conducted only once every ten years. It’s generally a very short form—about 10 simple questions—that takes only a few minutes to complete.
Why is this simple survey generating such widespread attention?
First, the Census defines who we are as a country – literally. The Census collects data on the race, ethnicity, sex, and age of the people who make up our country. When not everyone is counted, it leads to a distorted understanding of who we are, and what we look like, as a nation. This is especially problematic when certain populations—such as people of color or immigrants—are more likely to go uncounted. They become written out of our national narrative, even as people of color are projected to become a majority of the country by 2045.
Second, data collected by the Census is essential to many aspects of our lives and our communities. Being counted is how we bring political power to our communities, how we bring federal funding into our communities, and it is how we ensure protection of our most basic civil rights.
The Census is power, determining the political representation of our communities, including the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives and the number of electoral votes each gets for president for the next 10 years.
The Census is money, as the count is used to determine how over $600 billion in federal funds are distributed to state and local governments. This money is used to support affordable housing, local schools, health care facilities, and vital public benefits, such as food and cash assistance. About 300 different federal programs use Census data to determine where money is spent.
The Census is justice, because data collected by the Census about important characteristics like race and sex are critical to enforcement of our civil rights laws. Census data is used to identify and fight discrimination in housing, voting, employment, and other areas.
An undercount means less representation, less federal funding for essential programs, and less protection of our rights. The Census occurs only once every ten years. It’s important that we get a complete and accurate count – there are no do-overs.
Adding an intrusive demand for citizenship status in this political climate will lead to people refusing to complete the census form. That is by design. The demand for citizenship status is part of a deceptive campaign launched by the Trump administration and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE’ Department of Justice to accomplish precisely this result.
But we can work together to keep this question off the 2020 Census.
The Department of Commerce is requesting public comments on whether to include a citizenship question until August 7. Click here to tell Secretary Ross that this unnecessary question must be removed from the Census.
A number of states and civil rights organizations have already sued to block the citizenship question. The federal court recently allowed the case to move forward based partially on a finding that the plaintiffs made a plausible showing that the administration intended to discriminate against immigrants of color when it added the citizenship question.
Beyond the courts, concern and opposition are widespread and bi-partisan. So far, 60 members of Congress; 161 Democratic and Republican mayors; 2 former Commerce Secretaries and 6 former Census directors who served in Republican and Democratic administrations; 19 attorneys general; the scientific and statistical community; and business leaders around the country, have all spoken out against this shameful attempt to manipulate the Census.
We must continue the fight. The next ten years, at least, are at stake.
Scott Novakowski is Associate Counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.