Rights Groups Want to Flood Census Bureau With Public Comments Before August Deadline

Jeri Green is Senior Advisor to the National Urban League (NUL) on the 2020 Census

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — The U.S. Constitution requires the Census Bureau to count the number of people in the U.S every ten years. But every ten years the bureau undercounts minorities, children, and people living in rural areas.

“The National Urban League has convened a 2020 Census Black Roundtable to make sure we are visible, heard, and counted in the 2020 census,” said Jeri Green, Senior Advisor to the National Urban League (NUL).

Civil rights groups say the 2020 census will not be fair or accurate because Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wants to ask about citizenship status. They say the question is unnecessary and will discourage immigrants from participating in the census. Seven lawsuits have been filed to get the question dropped. 

People can weigh in on the citizenship question or anything else about the 2020 Census by submitting comments to the Commerce Department here: www.censuscouts.org  The deadline is August 7, 2018. In the past, public comments have influenced what questions the bureau asked and how they were asked.

 “A couple of decades ago the comments about the how the bureau might collect data on race and ethnicity were very instrumental and taken to heart,” said Teri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant with the Leadership Conference and a national expert on census issues.  

“It is possible and that is what this process is for… but again we are in very changing and unpredictable times,” she added.

The Trump administration says asking about citizenship is a way to ensure voting rights. The last time the census asked about citizenship status was in 1950.  Since then many other federal and state laws dealing with voting rights and registration have been passed. If it’s not necessary and will undermine an accurate count, why include it?

Given the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, minority advocates say many in their communities are afraid of being counted. Under federal law census data is used only for statistical purposes and is not shared with other federal or state agencies. Individual records are kept secret for 72 years. Even so, many immigrants fear a citizenship question is a prelude to a visit from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and they want no part of it.

Sec. Ross added the citizenship question to the 2020 Census in March against the advice of his own staffers. They recognized it would depress the count. A 2017 study reported Census Bureau field workers experienced widespread fear and refusals by interviewees to participate in census surveys. 

His critics say Ross simply caved into pressure from the White House to include the question. Ross claims members of the public must show him that the question will cause them some harm. That’s why stakeholders are mounting an all-out effort to get people to send comments by the August 7 deadline. People without Internet access can mail comments to: 

Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer, Department of Commerce, Room 6616, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20230

“We cannot allow backroom scheming to turn the census from an essential nonpartisan procedure into a dangerous political weapon,” said Vanita Gupta, President of the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

“Now it’s the peoples’ turn to raise their collective voices by flooding the Commerce Department with opposition to the citizenship question, “said Arturo Vargas, President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

“Our priorities are to get an accurate count especially of black men 19-29,“ Green said. The NUL is concerned about children age 0-5, prison inmates who should be counted as residents of their communities, not the counties where they are incarcerated, black immigrants, and rural residents without access to the Internet.

Green noted NUL has partnered with libraries in several states to train and grant Internet access to people who don’t have it. The 2020 census will be the first census allowing people to fill out the census form on line.

The Census Bureau didn’t count one million young children in 2010 and almost half were Latino children. One quarter of Asian Americans have never participated in a census before. More than half are immigrants and 90 percent are either immigrants or children of immigrants.

“The census is core to our community. It ensures that our community is counted, visible, protected, and represented. Getting the census right is critical for Asian Pacific Americans,” said John Yang, President of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

Population counts determine political representation and impact district election boundaries, federal funding for highways, schools, job training, and more.  Businesses count on accurate census data to make investment decisions. 

Yang noted that if Ross ignores a large volume of comments opposed to the citizenship question Congress can step in and order the Bureau to remove it. 

“The public comments have an impact beyond just the administrative process itself. And that’s why we feel it’s important for everyone to engage in this process,” Yang said. 

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