The following remarks are provided by CCLP's executive director Tiffani Lennon. An attack on access to reproductive health is an attack on access to healthcare. Today’s attack on healthcare affects everyone, but particularly those experiencing poverty, with a...
Letter: Remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census
Editorial note: On Aug. 3, Claire Levy, Executive Director of Colorado Center on Law and Policy, submitted this letter to Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer for the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The letter is regarding a proposal to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
Dear Ms. Jessup,
Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) respectfully submits the following comments on the 2020 Census proposed information collection. CCLP is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes justice and economic security for low-income Coloradans. Our trusted research and policy analysis relies heavily on U.S. Census data, which informs and motivates state and local policies.
We strongly oppose the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Asking an untested question about citizenship status will increase fear in immigrant communities and decrease Census participation. This will lead to under-counting of low-income and immigrant communities. Many in these communities rely on critical health and social programs to meet their basic needs, programs whose funding is distributed based on Census data. Inaccurate data will not only further the unequal distribution of wealth in our state, but will also skew reporting and analysis for the next decade. For these reasons, we urge the Department of Commerce to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census form.
Changing the U.S. Census requires extensive testing, review and evaluation over a 5-year period to ensure change is necessary, and will produce quality, useful information. Adding a citizenship question without rigorous testing undermines the processes put in place to ensure accurate data, equitable funding and a fairly representative government. An untested citizenship question will drive up costs as the Census Bureau struggles to develop new communications and outreach strategies with little time remaining, plan for an expanded field operation, and track down the millions of households that will be more reluctant to participate because of this controversial question. The uncertainty of adding an untested question is compounded by use of computer and internet responses, which together will depress response rates, cost additional taxpayer money, and thwart an accurate, inclusive 2020 enumeration.
The federal government uses census-derived data to direct at least $800 billion annually in federal assistance to states, localities and families. About 61 percent of all funding guided by Census data is related to health programs. CCLP is particularly concerned about the impact on funding for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which improve access to care and health outcomes and reduce disparities. The data used to calculate the federal funding states receive to run their Medicaid and CHIP programs are derived from the Census, so extensive under-counting of low-income immigrant communities and communities of color could put Medicaid and CHIP funding in jeopardy. Any cuts to funding would almost certainly translate to fewer services for people are eligible to receive coverage through these programs, putting access to care and health outcomes at risk for low-income children, adults and people with disabilities, including citizens.
CCLP is also concerned with funding for community health centers. Census data are used to calculate which areas qualify for funding for health center programs that provide integral physical, mental, behavioral and oral health care in medically underserved areas and for people who lack health insurance or otherwise struggle to afford care. Migrant health programs are particularly at risk, as under-counting of migrant populations, most of whom are poor, could impact funding for these important health programs.
Finally, the undercounting associated with the addition of a citizenship question could risk funding for SNAP, WIC, the federal school lunch program and Section 8 housing vouchers, which support low-income communities to access the food and housing they need to maintain their health and wellbeing.
Even though the Census is required to protect the personal information of respondents, asking a question about citizenship will spark fear among immigrant communities that information they provide might be used to target them or their families for detainment, deportation and other forms of family separation. This persistent fear, in and of itself, harms the mental and emotional health of children and families and may make people less likely to seek mental, physical, behavioral, oral or other health care services when they need them. Currently, immigrant communities participating in pilot data collection report being afraid that their data will not be kept private and could be used for immigration enforcement or shared with other government agencies for targeting of them, their families and their communities. In sum, asking about citizenship status in a climate of fear and mistrust can only heighten suspicions and harm mental health, depress response rates, cost additional taxpayer money and thwart an accurate, inclusive 2020 enumeration.
If people can’t trust that the data they report to the Census are confidential, they may be less likely to report personal information accurately and completely or participate at all. This is especially true for communities that face specific risks related to their citizenship status, like deportation or public charge determinations. Unfortunately, these are some of the same communities who have historically been undercounted in the census – namely Latino, Asian, African American, Native American, and Middle Eastern communities and immigrants. Adding a citizenship question will only compound existing struggles with collecting accurate census data on these populations, compromising the accuracy of the census for all communities.
The request to add a citizenship question has drawn intense opposition from an ideologically broad group of business leaders, state and local officials, social scientists and civil and human rights advocates who know how much is at stake with a fair and accurate census. This groundswell of opposition has included more than 160 Republican and Democratic mayors, six former directors of the Census Bureau and two former Commerce Secretaries from Republican and Democratic administrations, 171 civil and human rights groups, more than 600 faith leaders, more than 120 of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and many others representing a diversity of political ideologies and communities. We join these groups in our deep-seated concern that an untested citizenship question will compromise implementation of the 2020 Census, jeopardize the quality and accuracy of census data for all communities and perpetuate harm against immigrant communities and communities of color, specifically.
A full, fair and accurate census is absolutely critical for the functioning of many key health programs and for the health and wellbeing of all communities. For the reasons discussed above, we strongly oppose asking about citizenship status in the 2020 Census and urge the Department of Commerce to remove the proposed citizenship question from the data collection forms.
Colorado Center on Law and Policy