CHN: Census Immigration Question in the Spotlight

On May 18, the Justice Department’s Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the 2020 Census. Gore was originally scheduled to testify at a hearing on May 8 but failed to appear. As reported by ProPublica, emails suggest that Gore was the author of the letter to the Census Bureau requesting the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. According to the same article, Gore is “a Trump political appointee who is best known for his work defending Republican redistricting efforts around the country.” Advocates and at least one member of Congress also took note of a statement made by Thomas Brunell, President Trump’s initial pick to lead the Census Bureau, who said that the move to add a question on citizenship is a political move that will drive down responses and drive up costs.

The Census is constitutionally mandated to count every person in the U.S., regardless of immigration status, and the counts of all persons are used in determining a state’s number of congressional seats, legislative district lines, and funding levels for many federal grant programs to states or localities. Many advocates and state officials are highly critical of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, believing that in the midst of heightened anti-immigrant enforcement activities and policies, including such a question will discourage people from returning the Census form. This is likely to worsen the undercount of low-income people, people of color, and children. In the 2010 Census, children were significantly undercounted. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, with a sample of approximately 3,000 respondents, annually asks a citizenship question, so there is another source for immigrant status information. For more information, see the March 27 Human Needs Report and this fact sheet from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

As noted above, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment from Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) to the FY19 House Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill to prevent the Census Bureau from asking a question about citizenship. The bill, which the committee passed on May 17, provides $4.8 billion for the Census Bureau, approximately $2 billion more than last year’s level and $1 billion more than President Trump’s request, to ramp up for the 2020 Decennial Census. While they were disappointed over the rejection of the Serrano amendment, advocates were pleased with the funding boost for the Census Bureau. The Trump Administration estimates the 2020 Census will cost more than $15 billion.