August 6, 2018

City Of Chicago Along With 18 States, 4 Counties And 10 Cities Submit Official Comment Rejecting Trump Administration’s Decision To Add Citizenship Question On 2020 Census

Comment Complements Ongoing Litigation that Outlines Funding Risks from Depressed Census Turnout following Trump Administration’s Attempt to Intimidate Immigrants

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a bipartisan coalition of 18 states plus the District of Columbia, nine cities, four counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors submitted a formal comment today regarding the upcoming Census urging the Census Bureau to reconsider its decision, in a reversal of longstanding Bureau practice, to include an unnecessary citizenship question that will impair the Bureau’s essential function of counting all people in the 2020 Census.

“We are taking every action possible in our efforts to stop the Trump Administration from politicizing the Census and jeopardizing millions of dollars in funding for cities like Chicago with strong immigrant communities,” said Mayor Emanuel. "The Census helps ensure all residents have access to resources like pre-school for children, affordable housing for working families and effective health programs. Chicago is proud to join with leaders from across the country in standing up to the latest effort to undermine our residents’ rights.”

“I’m proud to lead a broad coalition of Attorneys General, cities and localities, and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors in our lawsuit to block the Trump administration from demanding citizenship information on the Census. That same coalition is sending yet another clear message today,” said New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood. “Demanding citizenship status as part of the Census is unlawful and could cause a huge undercount that threatens billions in federal funds and our fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College. We already secured a major court win last month when a federal judge gave our suit the greenlight and required the Trump administration to provide vital documents and information about its decision – and we won’t stop fighting ensure a full and fair Census.”

“The federal government should encourage every person living in our country to participate in the Census instead of putting up barriers that intimidate people from being counted,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “I am filing my objection today and am pursuing litigation against the federal government to ensure that immigrants in Illinois are represented fairly and accurately.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “I long for the days when the federal government was actually interested in conducting a true and accurate count of people who live in this country. For cities like Seattle, with large numbers of residents who were born outside the United States, accurate information is vital. I’m very pleased that we are submitting this comment in addition to the lawsuit pushing ahead.”

"Our coalition, which together represents tens of millions of residents throughout the country, is imploring the Census Bureau to reconsider their decision to include this harmful and completely unnecessary citizenship question," said Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein.  “Last year, Columbus received almost $100 million in federal funding for grant programs that rely on population data collected in the census. With a large and growing immigrant community, the possibility of losing those dollars is a very real threat and would directly impact our residents lives.”

The comment was submitted by the same group that joined a lawsuit filed in May that has already survived one legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The suit was filed by Attorneys General of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia; the cities of Central Falls, RI (the site of the 2018 end-to-end test of the Census), Chicago, Columbus, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle; Cameron County, TX; El Paso County, TX; Hidalgo County, TX; and Monterey County, CA and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The comment explains that demanding citizenship information on the Census is likely to depress response rates in cities and states with large immigrant populations, directly threatening those states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funds.

The comment further explains that the Census Bureau does not need citizenship information to properly perform its function, as the primary duty of the Census under the Constitution is to count all persons in the United States without regard to citizenship.  Nor will the citizenship question have practical utility; to the contrary, its deterrent effect on immigrant communities will reduce response rates and negatively impact the accuracy of the census.  Furthermore, the Bureau has not performed any – much less adequate – testing of the citizenship demand to ensure the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected. 

The Trump Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question reverses decades of past practice.  In 1980, the Census Bureau rejected the addition of a citizenship question, concluding that “[a]ny effort to ascertain citizenship will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count. Obtaining the cooperation of a suspicious and fearful population would be impossible if the group being counted perceived any possibility of the information being used against them. Questions as to citizenship are particularly sensitive in minority communities and would inevitably trigger hostility, resentment, and refusal to cooperate.”

More recently, in 2009, all eight former Directors of the Census Bureau dating back to 1979 – who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents – confirmed in testimony to Congress that the addition of a citizenship question would depress participation and lead to a significant undercount, undermining the purpose of the Census itself.

Adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census is the latest effort by the Trump Administration to suppress response rates by members of minority and immigrant communities.  In February, Mayor Emanuel sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Ross outlining concerns regarding the Administration’s lack of outreach and intentional efforts to limit participation. 

Under the Constitution, the Census Bureau has an obligation to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.” Nevertheless, the Trump Administration intends to demand citizenship information in the 2020 Census form sent to every household in the United States, even though the Census is supposed to count citizens and non-citizens alike.  Non-citizens are counted in the Census for the purposes of federal funds, apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts. Demanding citizenship information in the Census is expected to depress participation among immigrants, causing a population undercount that would disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities.

The Census Bureau’s own research shows that the decision to demand citizenship information will “inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count” by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities, because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information. These concerns are amplified by President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and pattern of actions that target immigrant communities.