Co-authors multistate letter to census bureau urging rejection of DOJ’s request.
BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today urged the U.S. Bureau of the Census to reject a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, warning that undercounting the population would undermine states’ rights and threaten billions of dollars in critical federal funding.
The multistate letter, sent today to the U.S. Department of Commerce, was co-authored by AG Healey, New York AG Eric T.Schneiderman, and California AG Xavier Becerra and joined by 16 other attorneys general and the state of Colorado. The attorneys general caution that adding a citizenship question would dramatically reduce participation and disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities.
According to the letter, this request would also jeopardize critical federal funding states and cities need to provide health insurance, public education funding, food assistance, housing opportunities, energy assistance, and other services and support for millions of residents, regardless of citizenship status.
“The census is supposed to count everyone. This request by the Trump Administration will result in an undercount of the Massachusetts population and threatens federal funding for our state and our cities,” said AG Healey. “It also threatens states’ fair representation in government and I urge the Census Bureau to reject this reckless request.”
State level experts with experience coordinating the administration of the census, including Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, share the concerns of the attorneys general.
“This is a clear case of politicization of the Census by the Trump Administration,” said Secretary Galvin. “Adding the proposed citizenship question to the survey would result in an undercount of immigrants in states like Massachusetts, where one out of every six residents is foreign-born. Along with recent moves by the Census Bureau to undercount college students, this change would shortchange Massachusetts in federal funding, and could reduce our representation in both Congress and in the Electoral College.”
On December 12, 2017, the Justice Department requested that a citizenship question be added to the 2020 census form sent to every household in the nation, even though the census is supposed to count all persons—citizens and non-citizens alike. The Justice Department argued that the collection of such information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Yet as the attorneys general explain in today’s letter, this proposal would have precisely the opposite effect by driving down participation in immigrant communities—a concern that is even more acute in today’s political climate.
To the extent that the Voting Rights Act requires a calculation of the number of eligible voters in a given jurisdiction, the Census Bureau already provides an adequate—and far less intrusive—source of citizenship information based on sampling, including the American Community Survey.
The attorneys general write that a population undercount would jeopardize the Census Bureau’s ability to determine how many people are in each state, threatening states’ fair representation in government, including in Congress and in the Electoral College.
A population undercount would deprive states of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds that are allocated in part on census data, including funding for education, housing, and infrastructure nationwide. Federal funding also supports essential public programs including Medicaid and SNAP benefits and thus, this proposal would limit funds designed to support some of the most vulnerable populations in each state, including low-income communities, the elderly, and children—regardless of citizenship.
In the letter, the attorneys general also point out that this request from the Department of Justice is very late in the process, as the Census Bureau must finalize their final questions by the end of March. That does not leave time for the Bureau to vet or test a citizenship question, which increases the risk of error and heightens the chance of an undercount in states.
The attorneys general of Massachusetts, New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the Governor of Colorado, signed on to today’s letter. This matter was handled in Massachusetts by Assistant Attorney General Mercy Cover of AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division and Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau Chief Jonathan Miller.