Civil and Human Rights Coalition Letter to HSGAC on Census Citizenship Question

View this letter as a PDF here.

The Honorable Ron Johnson
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
U.S. Senate
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Claire McCaskill
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
U.S. Senate
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member McCaskill:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we urge you to hold oversight hearings promptly on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to include a new citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census. We believe that Secretary Ross, who previously expressed concerns to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about adding untested questions, must explain his decision, which was made despite widespread objections from stakeholders, former Census Bureau directors, and career staff at the Census Bureau. We share the Secretary’s stated goal of a fair and accurate census; however, the addition of an untested citizenship question after years of careful, and costly, research, testing, and planning will compromise preparations for the 2020 Census, thereby jeopardizing the accuracy of the count in all communities—an outcome that the nation will have to live with for the next ten years.

We believe Secretary Ross must explain why he disregarded the advice of Census officials, including six former Census Bureau directors from Republican and Democratic administrations, who stated in a January 26th letter to the Secretary, “We strongly believe that adding an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.” What gives us further cause for concern are reports that the Commerce Department overruled the advice of career officials at the Census Bureau. Officials rightly worried that adding a citizenship question to the decennial census could depress response rates and lead to an undercount. These officials worked throughout the decade to understand the intricacies of the census and how asking certain questions can affect response rates, data collection methods, truthfulness of responses, and overall willingness to be counted in the census. Their advice should not be disregarded, especially for an issue that Secretary Ross himself acknowledged was “a big and very controversial request.”

In addition, Secretary Ross must explain why he believes the citizenship question was “well-tested,” as stated in his memo explaining the decision, when in fact the question has never been tested in a contemporary census-like environment. While the American Community Survey includes a citizenship question, as did the census “long form” before it, the question has not been asked on the census form that goes to all households since 1950. As the former census directors highlighted, every census is different, and the environment in which a census occurs is a significant factor. Small changes to the order of questions, wording, and instructions can have significant and often unexpected consequences for response rates and the quality and truthfulness of answers. The consequences of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census on data quality and census accuracy, therefore, are completely unknown.

We also believe that Secretary Ross must explain how the inclusion of the question will impact the Bureau’s ability to reach and count all communities equally well, especially in the current contemporary environment of fear. It is not, as Secretary Ross asserts, the responsibility of stakeholders to demonstrate that including a citizenship question will depress response rates. Rather, it is the Secretary’s job to ensure through rigorous research and testing that the question will not affect the level of responses. The Census Bureau noted, in a presentation in November 2017, that there was growing fear and reluctance to fill out the census in the current political climate. A citizenship question is likely to exacerbate those fears. Secretary Ross must explain and document with objective scientific evidence why he believes this would not be the case.

Finally, we believe that Secretary Ross must satisfy the committees of legislative jurisdiction that political motivations did not improperly taint the decision to add a citizenship question. On March 19th, the Trump reelection campaign sent an email to supporters saying, “The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens.” The campaign followed up on March 28th with an email celebrating the Secretary’s decision. The decennial census is not a political function; it is a constitutionally mandated process to count every person in the United States. Since 1790 every census has included citizens and non-citizens alike. The Constitution vests Congress with the responsibility for overseeing the enumeration and achieving that goal. While the census—as the basis for political apportionment and equal representation—has political consequences, the conduct of the census must be strictly nonpartisan and non-political.

We urge the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs to conduct oversight hearings on the Commerce Secretary’s decision to add a citizenship question to the decennial census as soon as possible. Thank you for your consideration of our views. Please feel free to contact John Foti at (202)-730-7157 if you have any questions.


9to5 WI

9to5, National Association of Working Women



Access Now

Action Ridge, A social action group in Park Ridge, Illinois


Advancement Project California

Advocates for Children and Youth

Advocates for Children and Youth (Maryland)


African American Ministers In Action


AJC (American Jewish Committee)

Alianza Americas

Alliance for Climate Education (ACE)

American Anthropological Association

American Association for Public Opinion Research

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

American Foundation for the Blind

American Library Association

American Planning Association

American Public Health Association

American Society on Aging

American Sociological Association

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Anti-Defamation League


APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon)

Arab American Institute

Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York (ART)

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Arkansas United Community Coalition

Asia Pacific Cultural Center

Asian American Federation

Asian American Organizing Project

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago

Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote

Asian Community Alliance Inc

Asian Community Development Council (ACDC)

Asian Law Alliance

Asian Pacific American Caucus

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

Asian Pacific Community in Action

Asian Pacific Development Center

Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence

Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association, Austin TX Chapter

Asian Services In Action, Inc.

Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

Association of Population Centers

Association of Public Data Users (APDU)

Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

AZ AAPI Democratic Party Caucus

AZ Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote Table

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Berkeley Media Studies Group

Breakaway Research Group

California Calls

California Calls Education Fund

Cambodian Women Networking Asso.

Campaign for Youth Justice

Campaign Legal Center

Center for Democracy & Technology

Center for Media and Democracy

Center for Popular Democracy

Center for Urban and Racial Equity

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

Child Care Aware of America

Children’s Advocacy Alliance – NV

Children’s Defense Fund

Chinese Community Center, Houston

Chinese for Affirmative Action





Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

Coalition for the Peoples Agenda

Coalition on Human Needs

Colorado Children’s Campaign

Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition

Common Cause

Communications Workers of America (CWA)

Community Action Against Rape DBA The Rape Crisis Center

Community Catalyst

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes

Congregation Rodeph Sholom

Consortium of Social Science Associations

Constitutional Accountability Center

Cook Inlet Housing Authority

Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER)


Crescent City Media Group

CYR & Assoc. Human Services Consulting

Daily Kos

Data You Can Use, Inc.

Decision Demographics

Defending Rights & Dissent

Delaware Ecumenical Council on Children and Families

Democracy Forward Foundation

Democracy Initiative


Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC)

End Domestic AbuseWI

Equal Justice Society

Equal Rights Advocates

Equality California

Equality North Carolina

Every Child Matters

Faith in Public Life

Families USA

Family Focused Treatment Association

Feminist Majority

FIRM (Fair Immigration Reform Movement)

Florida Asian Services Center

Food Research & Action Center

Forum for Youth Investment

Franciscan Action Network

Free Press Action Fund

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Friends of the Earth – United States

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance

Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO)

Government Information Watch

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.

Hep Free Hawaii

Hepatitis Education Project

Herd on the Hill

Hispanic Federation

Hispanic Organization for Leadership &  Action (HOLA)

Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters – USA-JPIC

HOPE For Nevada

Human Impact Partners

Human Rights Watch

Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Impact Fund

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda

Indivisible Baltimore

International Children Assistance Network

International Rescue Committee

Japanese American Citizens League

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

John H. Thompson, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau – August 2013 to June 2017

Justice in Aging

Kansas Action for Children

Kansas Appleseed

Kansas Center for Economic Growth

KIDS COUNT in Delaware

Kids Forward

Lambda Legal

Laotian American National Alliance

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

Latinx Voice WI

Laurin Associates

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, Inc.


Leadership Conference of Women Religious

League of Women Voters of the United States

Let America Vote

Lisa Gibson, Indivisible Hawaii

Los Angeles LGBT Center

MA Voter Table

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund)

Maxfield Research and Consulting LLC

Mi Familia Vota

MinKwon Center for Community Action

Minnesota Council on Foundations



Muslim Public Affairs Council


NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund

National Action Network

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)

National Association of Social Workers

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Law and Economic Justice

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD)

National Coalition for the Homeless

National Consumers League

National Council of Jewish Women

National Education Association

National Employment Law Project

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Equality Action Team (NEAT)

National Health Law Program

National Hispanic Media Coalition

National Human Services Assembly

National Immigration Law Center

National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP)

National Korean American Service and Education Consortium

National League of Cities

National LGBTQ Task Force

National Network for Arab American Communities

National Urban Indian Family Coalition

National Urban League

National WIC Association

National Women’s Law Center

Nazareth Housing Services

NC Child

NC Counts

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New America – Public Interest Technology

New Mexico Asian Family Center

New Mexico Voices For Children

New York Immigration Coalition

North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT)


OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates


Ohio Voter Rights Coalition

One Wisconsin Now

Organizing for Action

Our Wisconsin Revolution

Partnership For America’s Children

Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children

People For the American Way

PFLAG National

Planned Parenthood Federation of America


Poligon Education Fund

Population Association of America

positively kids

Prison Policy Initiative

Progressive Hmong American Organizers

Project On Government Oversight


Public Citizen

public health

Public Health Institute

Public Justice Center

Purdue Marion & Associates

Research Advisory Services, Inc.

Research Allies for Lifelong Learning

Revolving Door Project

Ribbon Demographics, LLC

Rid Racism Milwaukee

RLS Demographics, Inc.

Rock the Vote

San Francisco AIDS Foundation

Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law


Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)

Sierra Club


Sinsinawa Dominican Peace and Justice Office

Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Western Province Leadership

Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of New York

Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt, New York

Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, IA

Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Sisters of the Holy Cross

Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New Windsor, NY

SiX Action

Society of American Archivists

SocioEnergetics Foundation

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)


Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Southeast Michigan Census Council

Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Southern Poverty Law Center

Srs. of Mary Reparatrix

State Innovation Exchange (SiX)

State Voices

Sunlight Foundation

Tangible Consulting Services

Texas Civil Rights Project

Texas Progressive Action Network

The Arc of the United States

The Census Project

The Data Center

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)

The New Florida Majority Education Fund

The Resurrection Project

The Sikh Coalition

The United States Conference of Mayors

Theresa Nowlin

Transformative Justice Coalition

Union for Reform Judaism

Union of Concerned Scientists

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Methodist Women

United Neighborhood Houses of New York

Urban and Regional Information Systems Association

URI Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America

Vermont State Data Center

Virginia Civic Engagement Table

Voices for Progress

Voting Rights Institute

West Side Campaign Against Hunger

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Wisconsin Voices

World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law

YWCA Southeast Wisconsin




cc: Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs