Late in the evening of March 26, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced his decision to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census. The addition of such a question—one that has not undergone the Census Bureau’s usual rigorous testing—jeopardizes the accuracy and integrity of the entire Census count, and represents a fundamental threat to fairness in our democracy.
From the drawing of district lines and allocation of representatives in Congress to the distribution of resources for infrastructure, health care, schools, and more, Census results have far-reaching consequences that affect everyday lives.
To ensure equitable distribution of resources and representation, the Census calls for a count of all persons, not just citizens. Any undercount threatens the integrity of the Census, and the administration’s decision to add a question demanding to know if a respondent is a citizen is guaranteed—some might say designed—to depress participation, particularly among immigrant communities, mixed-citizenship status households, lower-income families, and racial and ethnic minorities. Anyone who feels threatened by or distrustful of the government’s collection of this information may decline to participate, undercounting the very people who are most overlooked in our society. If these and other hard-to-count groups and communities are not counted fairly and accurately, they will be deprived of equal political representation and the vital public and private resources they deserve.
Despite this potential challenge, State Voices is committed to achieving a complete Census count in 2020. Our 20 state-based coalitions and over 1000 partners are working with community-based organizations to build organizing, field, and communications capacity. We’re engaging hard-to-count communities in getting out the count, and we’re working with lawmakers to demonstrate the negative impact an undercount would have on their states.
The citizenship question will raise concerns in all households—regardless of current citizenship status—about the confidentiality of Census responses and how that information may be used, leading to a significant undercount. State Voices’ commitment to equity leads us to call on Congress to fix this untested and unwarranted assault on an accurate Census.