See the text of the letter below.
Representative Stephen F. Lynch
Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Lynch,
We write to express deep concern over the recent addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial Census. The addition of an untested question at this late stage of Census planning, after the launch of the end-to-end test for 2020 operations, will exacerbate distrust of the census process in communities that are considered hard-to-count. To ensure that Massachusetts residents get the funding and representation they deserve, we ask that you take action to the 2020 Census and prevent the addition of the citizenship question.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced this addition over the objections of a wide range of Census stakeholders. This bipartisan opposition included 161 Democratic and Republican mayors, six former Census directors who served in Democratic and Republican administrations, 19 attorneys general, and several dozen business leaders from across the country. During a March budget hearing, Secretary Ross himself suggested that asking about citizenship on the Census could negatively impact the overall response rate.
The Department of Justice described a citizenship question as necessary for enforcing the Voting Rights Act. This is inaccurate. No question on citizenship has appeared on the Census since 1950, yet the Justice Department and civil rights groups have successfully brought litigation under the VRA since its enactment in 1965. Information on citizenship is available through other surveys that the Census Bureau conducts, including the American Community Survey. Should the Department of Justice require that information, it is available without endangering the success of the 2020 Census.
The importance of an accurate Census count cannot be overstated. Massachusetts receives over $16 billion for the 16 largest Census-guided, federally funded programs each year. These funds are used for programs that impact every Massachusetts resident, including health center programs, CHIP, foster care, special education grants, highway planning and construction, and Medicaid–to name a few. If people are undercounted on the Census, these critical programs will be underfunded for an entire decade.
There is currently a climate of fear in many hard-to-count communities. Despite guarantees of confidentiality, respondents surveyed by the Census Bureau have reported an increased fear that their information would be shared with immigration officials. The non-response rate on citizenship questions on the American Community Survey has been steadily rising as the immigration debate has become increasingly hostile. Bureau workers have also reported respondents abandoning meetings on other subjects–leaving Bureau employees alone in their homes–when the subject of immigration or citizenship is raised. Adding this question plays into existing fears and jeopardizes the accuracy of the 2020 Census in every state and community by deterring many people–citizens and non-citizens–from responding.
The Constitution requires a complete count of all persons in the country, both citizens and non-citizens alike. The success of the Census relies heavily upon its nonpartisan nature. The decision to add a citizenship question (especially now that issues of immigration and citizenship are the subject of intense partisan debate) makes it unlikely that the 2020 Census will be perceived as nonpartisan by the public. This makes a complete count unlikely, directly harming Massachusetts residents. We strongly urge members of the Massachusetts delegation to support committee hearings in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs regarding the Commerce Secretary’s decision to add a citizenship question to the decennial Census. We applaud the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for scheduling a hearing on May 9th and hope for ongoing conversation on this issue. Additionally, we urge all members of the Massachusetts delegation to support legislative efforts to block the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
Asian American Resource Workshop
Asian Community Development Corporation
Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston
Chinese Progressive Association
Coalition for Social Justice
Health Imperatives, Inc.
Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, Brockton
Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL)
Massachusetts Community Development Corporation
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition
Massachusetts Voter Education Network
Massachusetts Voter Table
Quincy Asian Resources, Inc.
Roslindale IS for Everyone (RISE)
South Boston NDC
Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation
Cc: Others in the delegation