July 24, 2018

On July 24 at 12:30 PM, U.S. Senator Cory Booker joined New Jersey civil rights leaders on a press call to condemn the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The public comment period is open until August 7.

“The 2020 Census count must be accurate, efficient, and completely nonpartisan. Adding a citizenship question to the survey compromises each of these core goals,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “This shameful attempt to inject nativist politics into the Census undermines our very values as Americans. I stand in strong opposition to any efforts by this administration to keep immigrants and people of color in New Jersey and across our nation undercounted and underrepresented in our society.”

In March, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, with the support of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice, announced that he had directed the Census Bureau to add a question to the 2020 Census that would ask for citizenship status. Adding an untested and unnecessary citizenship question is a blatant attempt at intimidation and will certainly lead to an undercount in the nation’s urban areas and communities of color. A number of states, including New Jersey, and civil rights organizations have already sued to ensure there is no citizenship question.

Joining Senator Booker on the press call were:

  • Ryan Haygood, President and CEO, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
  • Johanna Calle, Director, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice
  • Theresa Markila, Advocate, Wind of the Spirit
  • Sara Cullinane, Director, Make the Road New Jersey
  • Amol Sinha, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
  • Jesse Burns, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of New Jersey
  • Inge Spungen, Executive Director, Paterson Alliance
  • Alana Vega, Kids Count Coordinator, Advocates for Children of New Jersey
  • Scott Novakowski, Associate Counsel, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

“Everyone should be counted in the 2020 Census,” said Ryan Haygood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Everyone. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’s shameful attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, in light of the racist, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic policies being promoted by the federal government, promise to discourage people from participating, thereby destroying a full count in New Jersey. We urge New Jersey’s residents to lift their collective voices to ensure that everyone is counted in the 2020 Census.”

“We condemn the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” added Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “This question is meant to inspire fear among our communities but let me be clear: We will not back down and we will not live in fear. We have a right to be counted and to be heard. We demand that this citizenship question be taken off the Census. We are committed to fighting for our communities in New Jersey and across the United States.”

The new citizenship question for the decennial Census will ask of each household member: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Respondents must choose one of the following responses: 1) “Yes, born in the United States[;]” 2) “Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas[;]” 3) “Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents[;]” 4) “Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization – Print year of naturalization[;]” and 5) “No, not a U.S. citizen[.]”

The decennial census is a constitutionally required, once-every-ten-years undertaking to count every person living in the United States. Congress has delegated its authority to conduct the count to the U.S. Department of Commerce and its Census Bureau.

The Census helps determine elected representation and funding. Under the U.S. Constitution, the Census population count is used to determine how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and how many electoral votes each of the 50 states will have for the following decade. Congress allocates at least $600 billion annually in federal grants or direct payments to states, localities, and families for a range of vital programs and services, based on census-derived data. In Fiscal Year 2015 New Jersey received more than $17 billion in federal grants to fund programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and housing vouchers.

“Many New Jersey communities are at high risk for being undercounted in the Census,” said Alana Vega, Kids Count Coordinator for Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Young children are an undercounted population nationally, and in New Jersey, 28 percent of all young children live in hard-to-count areas, comprising more than 140,000 children. An accurate count of young children is critical to funding and supporting programs that support their development. In a state where almost 40 percent of children live in immigrant families, any deterrent to filling out a Census form may make an accurate count more difficult.”

Many people of color disproportionately live in hard-to-count (HTC) areas, defined as those jurisdictions in which a low percentage of residents completed and returned the most recent Census questionnaire. According to data released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, 51% of New Jersey’s Black residents and 40% of its Hispanic residents live in HTC areas. In several New Jersey cities, nearly all people of color live in HTC areas. For example, 96% of Newark’s Black residents and 93% of its Hispanic residents live in HTC areas. In Camden City, those figures are 97% and 86%, respectively.

“Even under the best of circumstances, the Census typically undercounts hard-to-count populations including people of color, homeless people, immigrants, and children,” said Scott Novakowski, Associate Counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “The addition of a demand for citizenship status, combined with the climate of intimidation and fear created by this administration, will only exacerbate the undercount, depriving vulnerable communities of the funding and political representation to which they are entitled.”

“A citizenship question on the Census is nothing short of an attack on the ideals of representative democracy and an attempt to strip people of color and immigrants of their democratic power,” added ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “We cannot allow our government to draw lines of division around our communities and deprive us of our fundamental rights, including the fundamental right to be counted. We are ready to fight on all fronts – the courts, the legislatures, the streets – to make sure that all of our voices count, now and in 2020.”

Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, agreed, saying: “The League of Women Voters of New Jersey and the League of Women Voters of the United States oppose the inclusion of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census. The inclusion of this question will discourage participation in the 2020 Census, and undermine the integrity of the Census and our democracy.”