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Protect the Federal Census

Date Published: April 11, 2018

In the statement, the Civil Rights Project urges federal authorities to protect the integrity of the Census, and to avoid distortions that would certainly be produced by inserting an immigration question, sure to lower participation and accuracy.

 April 12, 2018                          

Protect the Federal Census
A Statement by the Civil Rights Project


The Civil Rights Project urges federal authorities to protect the integrity of the Census and to avoid the distortions that would certainly be produced by inserting an immigration question, which is sure to lower participation and accuracy.  We are a country of vast size and complexity in the midst of a historic process of fundamental demographic change.  We need valid information.  We are also a country with a low level of voting where there have been major struggles over voting rights and exclusion of potential voters.  Every aspect of our society requires accurate information about our changing population. There are such large and rapid changes between the generations that good solid information is essential to make the needed adjustments in our businesses and institutions.


The only nationally reliable source of many kinds of data is the U.S. Census, one of the very few governmental activities mandated by the Constitution because the need was clear even 242 years ago.  The Census is important for planning, understanding the basic changes in the society, allocation of resources in a fair manner, marketing information, and for a myriad of other functions.  When there are changes in the Census, the amount of information we have expands or contracts, and our understanding of basic issues can be enhanced or gravely damaged.  We have conducted studies and designed surveys in many parts of the U.S. We know how difficult but important it is to obtain accurate information, particularly about racial and ethnic minorities.   


One of the things that both Republican and Democratic administrations have tried to do is to keep the Census out of politics and in the hands of expert demographers and statisticians, who work to create and publish careful and accurate statistics that all of our institutions can use with confidence.  As a leading research center working on issues of racial opportunity and inequalities, we rely heavily on valid Census statistics, as do researchers in every part of our nation.  This makes it singularly dangerous to engage in the manipulation of Census statistics for obvious political purposes, distorting and injecting inaccuracies into our fundamental information system.  We believe that inserting a citizenship question into the Census would be just this kind of politically motivated interference.


The Constitution requires a count of all residents, not just citizens, and the Census Bureau’s clear responsibility is to count us all.


The Census Bureau has long conceded that there is an undercount in its Census, especially caused by the failure to reach many young men of color.  Congress has refused to allow weighting the data to better approximate the total population. What we have is a best approximation that currently underrepresents the communities and groups most in need.  Imposing a citizenship question at this time of extreme social and political conflict over immigration -- and while there is imminent threat of deportation for millions of undocumented long-term U.S. residents and workers -- will certainly create fear and lower participation in the Census, especially in heavily immigrant Latino and Asian communities.  In surveys we recently conducted in school districts across the nation, many educators reported that immigrant parents now are so fearful of government that they are even unwilling to sign their children’s permission slips for school outings or apply for free lunches that their children need and for which they are eligible.


We are convinced that asking a citizenship question in communities very fearful of federal deportation raids will result in even greater and more serious undercounts.[1]  These communities ultimately would lose both political power and invaluable resources from the many programs that distribute aid and benefits on the basis of Census data. This practice would also lead to the overrepresentation of whites and higher income residents in a less accurate overall Census count, distorting the entire federal data and aid systems. 




[1] This does not mean that the government should not support research on immigration and citizenship.  These are important issues for research and we believe that institutions, such as the National Academy of Sciences, nonpartisan university research centers, and survey research organizations could well be asked to conduct research and report on these subjects. Given the extreme polarization and the inflamed battles over immigration, we believe that such research should be conducted by independent academic institutions with highly qualified researchers. The country needs accurate information. A partisan decision to insert this citizenship issue into the Census is the wrong way to do it.


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