Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the proposed inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The League believes including such a question in the 2020 Census will cause participation to plummet. An accurate Census count is too important to threaten the results with this political move.
Getting an accurate count in the 2020 Census is critical to all American communities. Census data is not only used to draw state and congressional districts based on population, but it is also used by local governments to plan for public safety. Having an undercount of persons in a given area could result in inadequate disaster responders, insufficient resources for transportation and education, and impacts to the overall health and safety of communities.
“Persons. Persons. Not citizens. Not immigrants. Persons,’’ said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-M.D.), the ranking member of the Committee, “That means everybody counts.”
The last time the Census included a question about citizenship was in 1950. It has not been included since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). There is no justification to the Department of Justice’s claims that adding a citizenship question is necessary to enforce the VRA.
Furthermore, it is against the law for the Census Bureau to share individual information with other government agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But the invasive question raises concerns about confidentially.
It is up to Congress to exercise oversight authority over the Census Bureau and the League calls on this Committee to use their power and remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census.
At yesterday’s committee meeting, the key Justice Department official invited, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, John Gore, was a no-show. Gore is the architect for the Census Bureau’s proposed citizenship question.
Republican and Democratic members of the committee were quick to call for Gore’s attendance before the committee and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Committee, said he would subpoena Gore if necessary.
"He’s coming at some point to talk, whether he wants to or not," Gowdy said. "I don’t think it's fair to the folks who did show up to focus on one that did not show up. I am happy to issue a subpoena."
Despite the absence of Gore, the hearing proceeded and Census Bureau representatives answered tough questions about the proposed citizenship question.
The League commends Chairman Gowdy for demanding the attendance of a key official connected to this issue. The process for including this question should be transparent. Americans have the right to know why government officials are interested in including this question for the first time in almost seventy years. We look forward to the committee continuing the hearing on May 18th with Acting Assistant Attorney General Gore in attendance.
The League joined national civil rights, voting rights, labor and criminal justice organizations in submitting comments to the Census Bureau asking that incarcerated persons be counted at their home address, rather than the prison facility they occupy on census day. The League believes that if the Census Bureau modified its residence rule with respect to incarcerated persons, all states and localities will have the opportunity to more accurately and equitably reflect the incarcerated population in their redistricting plans.