CLC Submits FOIAs in Regards to 2020 Census Citizenship Question

Daniel Hessel
Feb 6, 2018
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Campaign Legal Center (“CLC”) has filed two Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests to the Department of Justice and U.S. Census Bureau, seeking more information on ongoing deliberations about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census form.  CLC has asked for expedited processing and release of these documents because the matter is urgent: Adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census could have catastrophic effects on the accuracy of the data we rely on to structure our democracy and the questions have to be finalized by March 31.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of an accurate Census count to our system of government. The 2020 Census tally will be used to determine how many congressional seats each state receives for a decade. This determination will affect the number of electoral votes that are allotted to each state in the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections. The tally will also determine where Congressional, state, and local legislative lines must be drawn since districts must have roughly equal populations based on Census numbers. Moreover, federal funds for everything from healthcare to education to housing are disbursed based on the count.

There will be no mulligans. The Census Bureau’s 2020 count will affect every level of government and the Bureau’s constitutional responsibility is to ensure that the count is as precise as possible.

That’s why CLC, along with myriad civil rights groups, is concerned about the Department of Justice’s late-breaking request to include a citizenship question on the Census form just months before the form must be finalized. By the Census Bureau’s own determinations, minority groups and foreign-born populations are more likely to be undercounted than other populations. This difference means that, when the Census count is translated to congressional and legislative seats, minority and foreign-born populations receive less representation and are politically weaker than their white and American-born counterparts.

Adding a question about citizenship status to the form will only aggravate the problem by making it less likely that forms will be returned, according to members of the affected communities, voting rights experts, and former Census Bureau officials. Including a citizenship question will affect all types of households, including the many American households comprised of a mix of citizens, documented immigrants, and undocumented immigrants.  Four former Census Bureau Directors put it simply when they explained to the Supreme Court that the consequence of adding a citizenship question “would be bad Census data.”  The Constitution requires a tally of all people residing in the United States, regardless of citizenship status, and the Census Bureau must not take action to undermine the accuracy of the count.

CLC’s FOIA requests – one to the Department of Justice and the other to the Census Bureau – seek to ensure that the American people are not left in the dark regarding a process that will affect every level of American democracy. Because the Census Bureau must submit its proposed 2020 questionnaire to Congress by March 31, 2018, CLC has demanded an expedited processing of these FOIA requests.

These requests are one of several ways in which CLC is monitoring the Census preparation process. Along with several other groups, CLC has expressed concern that the Census Bureau will not be properly managed. The 2020 Census is critical to American government and CLC will continue to work to ensure its accuracy.

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