Posted by Suher Adi on March 27, 2019 in Blog

Two weeks ago, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified in front the House Oversight committee on his role in the administration’s proposed addition of a citizenship question to Census 2020. This long-overdue hearing took place after the Trump Administration fought to keep Ross from being deposed during the New York citizenship question case. In a shocking move, while current litigation about the question is taking place and has been elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States, Ross agreed to testify at the hearing.

Republicans on the committee stated their concern with the hearing being used as part of the record for future litigation at the Supreme Court. In fact, ranking member Representative Jim Jordan from Ohio made clear that he knew parts of this testimony would impact the SCOTUS case. Committee Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings emphasized the purpose of the Oversight Committee, and expressed that this hearing is necessary for Congress to be doing its job in ensuring that there was no corruption or political motivation on behalf of the Secretary in adding the citizenship question.

This is not the first time the Secretary had testified to this committee to address the proposedf addition of the question. Earlier last year, Secretary Ross testified in front of the House Oversight Committee and stated that he was directed to add the question due to needed information by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for enforcing the Voting Rights Act. It was later discovered that the Secretary lied under oath about the request, as it was in fact Secretary Ross who asked then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to initiate the request. Internal memos show that Kris Kobach and other Trump Administration actors wanted Sec. Ross to add the question as a way to ensure an undercount of various marginalized communities, ultimately for political gain. When asked if he would like to withdraw parts of his previous testimony, Ross stated that he stood by everything he said including the part of the record where he denied the communication with other political actors who wanted to ensure an undercount on the upcoming Census.  

Through the hearing we learned that the citizenship question, if implemented, will be more than just a “yes” or “no” format. The question will have a portion that asks where you are from, according to Secretary Ross. While some members on the committee tried to make the case that the citizenship question has been asked recently in a Census form, that was not true. The last time the question was asked on a Census form was prior to the 1950’s, before the Civil Rights Act was implemented.

 

 

During the hearing, new members of Congress came out in full force. It has been made clear that there were political motivations behind the addition of the citizenship question, and Arab American Representative Rashida Tlaib drew a connection from this climate of politicization to the decision  of the administration not to pursue the inclusion of a MENA category. At the end of her line of questioning, Rep.Tlaib asked why the Bureau decided to abandon the tested MENA category, something the Bureau reported would increase, and therefore make more accurate the count of hard to count communities.

By first abandoning the MENA category that was tested and proven effective to increase the count in 2018 and then adding an untested citizenship question, which members of Bureau themselves warned could suppress the count, it is clear there is an internal political campaign to sabotage the count and our democracy.

As we await the Supreme Courts decision on the citizenship question, AAI is working to understand why exactly the MENA category was abandoned and will no longer appear on the 2020 form by way of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) litigation. Regardless of the outcome, we are working to Get Out The Count in 2020, and we hope to help you stay up to date and counted during the 2020 Census.

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