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UUSC Rejects Proposals to Add Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

Far-reaching, damaging effects would range from alienating and sparking fears among immigrant communities to artificially altering political representation and the distribution of funds for essential services to communities.

By UUSC on August 7, 2018

Update, January 2019: A federal judge has blocked President Trump’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Many thanks to the UUs from across the nation who spoke up and submitted comments to voice concerns over this dangerous attempt to subjugate immigrants through our census process!

UUSC’s public comment on the 2020 Census

Ms. Jennifer Jessup
Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer
Department of Commerce, Room 6616
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230

 Re:      Docket number USBC-2018-0005
2020 Census

Dear Ms. Jessup,

I write on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) to urge you to reject proposals to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. As a U.S.-based human rights organization with more than 40,000 members and supporters nationwide, UUSC works with numerous faith communities and organizations whose members represent immigrant and non-citizen populations of diverse legal status, many of whom would be harmed by this proposed rule.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states in plain language that the Census must count “the whole number of persons in each State,” making no distinction with respect to citizenship status. While it is consonant with this mandate to include questions on the Census form to gather demographic data, these questions should never be designed in such a way that they deter any members of our communities from participating in the Census.

The inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census Questionnaire in the present political climate would likely discourage Census participation among immigrant and non-citizen populations. In turn, this effect would artificially alter political representation and the distribution of funds for essential services to our communities. This change would harm all U.S. residents, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, who live in districts with mixed citizenship status. Inclusion of a citizenship question would also interfere with the fundamental purpose of the Census, which is to ensure an accurate count of the number of persons in the United States.

Recent policy changes have made the status of many immigrant communities increasingly precarious. The decision to effectively end prosecutorial discretion for undocumented immigrants—the “zero tolerance” policy with respect to asylum-seekers entering the United States between ports of entry—as well as the revocation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status for multiple countries, have closed avenues for many immigrants to live and work safely in the United States.

These political actions make it highly likely that including a citizenship question on the Census would deter many immigrants from participating. A government official warned in November 2017 that concerns about the administration’s immigration policies were already leading some immigrant participants to break off interviews with census workers or to give partial or incorrect information during test surveys–even before the new citizenship question was formally proposed.

The deterrent effect of the citizenship question will likely extend not only to undocumented immigrants, asylum-seekers in removal proceedings, and holders of temporary status, but also to many permanent residents, U.S. citizens born abroad, mixed-status families, and their larger communities. Recent news reports indicate that even naturalized citizens and lawful permanent residents are not immune to these policies. The administration has reportedly devoted resources to a more aggressive effort to denaturalize citizens who committed minor factual errors or omissions during their naturalization process. Draft regulations leaked to the media also indicate plans to expand the grounds for denying immigration benefits to individuals as potential “public charges.”

The Constitution makes it clear that the purpose of the Census is to accurately count every person. It is a critical tool to maintain a fair and equitable distribution of federal services and political representation throughout the country. Adding a citizenship question will likely send a chilling signal to many immigrant communities that they are not welcome to participate in the Census and may spark fears that the information they share will be used against them for enforcement purposes.

As an organization that works closely with diverse communities and inspired by a commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, UUSC asks that you reject any proposed rules that would add questions about citizenship on the 2020 Census Questionnaire.


Josh Leach
Policy Associate
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
689 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-3302
jleach @ uusc.org

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