Posted on January 10, 2018 in Press Releases

The Arab American Institute and 169 civil and human rights groups, sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross urging him to reject the Department of Justice’s request for Acting Census Director Ron Jarmin to add a new citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Download full letter here

Dear Secretary Ross:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the undersigned 169 organizations, we urge you to reject the Department of Justice’s untimely and unnecessary request for a new citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which would threaten a fair and accurate decennial census. Adding a new citizenship question to the 2020 Census would destroy any chance for an accurate count, discard years of careful research, and increase costs significantly.

You and your staff have made clear that you share our goal of a full, fair, and accurate census. A fair and accurate census, and the collection of useful, objective data about our nation’s people, housing, economy, and communities generally, are among the most significant civil rights issues facing the country today. Every census since the first enumeration in 1790 has included citizens and non-citizens alike. Adding a new question on citizenship to the 2020 Census undoubtedly would affect response rates, outreach, and advertising strategies, and other important elements of the nation’s largest, most complex peacetime activity, calling into question the results of many years of costly, painstaking research and testing.

Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would disrupt preparations at a pivotal point in the decade, undermining years of research and testing and increasing census costs significantly at a time when Congress has directed a less expensive enumeration. The Justice Department’s request would literally would add billions of dollars to the life-cycle cost of this census, without improving accuracy.

Questionnaire design and testing began nearly eight years ago during the 2010 Census. Requiring this new topic this late in the decade would threaten the success of the 2020 Census because robust testing in a census-like environment is essential, given the probable chilling effect of adding these questions to the form. There simply is no time to redesign the census form, craft scientifically sound questions to collect the information the Justice Department requests, and evaluate the impact of this new question on census participation and operations before the census starts, in any responsible way. Given the constitutional requirement to conduct the census in 2020, final planning and preparations for the census would be haphazard, at best, leaving the nation with a deeply flawed foundation for our democratic ideals, informed decision-making, and prudent allocation of precious taxpayer dollars.

In addition, adding this question would jeopardize the accuracy of the 2020 Census in every state and every community by deterring many people from responding. The question is unnecessarily intrusive and will raise concerns in all households – native- and foreign-born, citizens and non-citizens – about the confidentiality of information provided to the government and how that information might be used. Moreover, there are many mixed status households in the United States, which include members who are both citizens and non-citizens with various legal statuses. Mixed-status and immigrant households will be especially fearful of providing information to the federal government in 2020, given the heightened climate of fear that anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have created. In short, any effort to determine citizenship through the constitutionally required census would jeopardize the accuracy of the entire count, leaving public, private, and nonprofit decision-makers with bad information for all purposes, for the next 10 years. Further, such an effort is likely to shake public confidence in the narrow (though vital) statistical objectives of the Census Bureau’s work, damaging ongoing data collection efforts well into the future.

Finally, in addition to being untimely, the request is unnecessary. The Justice Department has never needed to add this new question to the decennial census to enforce the Voting Rights Act before, so there is no reason it would need to do so now. Contrary to the Justice Department’s letter, the Census Bureau has not included a citizenship question on the modern census “short form,” sent to every household.  In fact, no such question has appeared on the census “short form” since enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Estimates of the citizen voting-age population derived from the ongoing American Community Survey, and the so-called census “long” or sample form before that, have been and continue to be suitable for purposes of civil rights and Voting Rights Act enforcement. Whether utilizing such data for Section 2 enforcement actions, Section 203 determinations, or other voting rights enforcement efforts, courts and the Justice Department have accepted census data as currently collected since enactment of the Voting Rights Act. Given these plain facts, the entire justification for the request should be viewed skeptically as an attempt to throw a wrench into final planning and preparations for an enumeration that already faces enormous challenges, including inadequate and delayed funding, cyber-security risks, and a climate of fear fanned by anti-immigrant rhetoric.

For these reasons, we urge you to reject the Justice Department’s request to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. If you have any questions about these comments, please contact Leadership Conference Census Task Force Co-chairs Terry Ao Minnis, Asian Americans Advancing Justice|AAJC, at 202-296-2300 x0127, or Arturo Vargas, NALEO Educational Fund, at 213-747-7606, or Chris Harley, Census Campaign Director at 202-466-3311.



The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights



Advancement Project California

Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Educational Research Association

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

American Federation of Teachers

American Library Association

American Sociological Association

American Statistical Association

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Anti-Defamation League


Arab American Institute

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote

Asian Counseling and Referral Service

Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE)

Association of Population Centers

Association of Public Data Users

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Black Women’s Roundtable

Black Youth Vote!

Bread for the World

Brennan Center for Justice

California Calls

Campaign Legal Center

Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities

Casa Latina

Center for American Progress

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

Children Now

Children’s Advocacy Alliance

Church World Service


Coalition for Disability Health Equity

Coalition on Human Needs

Common Cause

Congregation Beth Shalom

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

Consortium of Social Science Associations

Council for Community and Economic Research

Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Council on American-Islamic Relations, California

Defending Rights & Dissent

Detention Watch Network

Education Law Center-PA

Emgage Foundation

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities

Equal Justice Society

Equality California

Faith in Public Life

Family Equality Council

Farmworker Justice


Franciscan Action Network

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Friends of the Earth US

Government Accountability Project

Government Information Watch

Hispanic Federation

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights Watch

In the Public Interest


Insights Association

Interfaith Worker Justice

Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia

Irish International Immigrant Center

Islamic Society of North America, Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances

Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health

Japanese American Citizens League

KIDS COUNT in Delaware

Lambda Legal

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

League of United Latin American Citizens

League of Women Voters of the United States

Legal Aid at Work

Los Angeles LGBT Center

Maine Children’s Alliance


Massachusetts Voter Table

Mi Familia Vota

Muslim Justice League


NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

NALEO Educational Fund

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)

National Association of Social Workers

National CAPACD

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)

National Council of Jewish Women

National Council on Independent Living

National Disability Rights Network

National Education Association

National Employment Law Project

National Health Law Program

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Immigration Law Center

National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP)

National Justice for Our Neighbors

National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

National Latina/o Psychological Association

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

National Low Income Housing Coalition

National Network for Arab American Communities

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Youth Employment Coalition

Natural Resources Defense Council

NC Child

NC Counts Coalition

Neighborhood Action Coalition

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New Mexico Voices for Children

Northern California Grantmakers

OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates



People For the American Way

PFLAG National

PICO California

Pierce County Labor Community Services Agency

Planned Parenthood Federation of America


Population Association of America

Prison Policy Initiative

Public Citizen

Research Advisory Services, Inc.

Senior Executives Association

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Sikh Coalition

SiX Action

Society of American Archivists

Southeast Michigan Census Council

Southern California Grantmakers

Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Southern Echo Inc.

State Voices

Sunlight Foundation

The Children’s Partnership

The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society

The Voter Participation Center

UnidosUS (formerly NCLR)

Union for Reform Judaism

Union of Concerned Scientists

Voces Verdes

Voices for Progress

Voices for Vermont’s Children

Voto Latino

Wallingford Indivisible

Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network

Win/Win Network

Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund