The U.S. Senate has started consideration of the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. We learned today of two amendments that seriously threaten planning for the 2020 Census, as well as the American Community Survey and other important Census Bureau programs, such as the 2017 Economic Census.
(1) Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) will offer an amendment to add questions on citizenship and legal status to the 2020 Census form. The senator’s stated purpose for collecting this information is to exclude undocumented residents (and perhaps all non-citizens; he has used the terms interchangeably in the past) from the state population totals used for congressional apportionment, which are derived from the decennial census (Article I, sec. 2, of the Constitution).
This amendment is a serious threat to a fair and accurate census. Please see our Talking Points, below, for reasons why the Senator’s goal is unconstitutional and how adding these questions to the form would create a “chilling effect” during the census in communities throughout the country and would undermine years of careful planning and preparation for the 2020 Census, now only a few years away.
(2) Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) will offer an amendment to cut the Census Bureau’s funding level by $148 million, essentially wiping out ANY funding “ramp up” for the 2020 Census. With final testing and key design decisions scheduled for 2017, failure to provide any funding increase over FY2016 would force the Bureau to abandon most (if not all) plans to modernize the census; it would have to fall back on the 2010 Census design, at an additional cost of $5+ billion (with a “b”!). Alternatively, the Census Bureau would have to eliminate the American Community Survey and/or 2017 Economic Census, which provides the baseline data for all key national economic indicators, such as GDP. Please see our fact sheet on “Why Full Funding Matters” for talking points (and feel free to share it directly with Senate offices.) (The Fischer amendment does not propose a funding reduction to pay for another program in the bill, but simply as a cost-saving measure, so it should be easier for Senators to oppose it.)
We urge your organizations to contact your Senators ASAP and ask them to oppose Vitter Amendment #4687 and Fischer Amendment #4711 to the FY2017 Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill (S. 2578), for the reasons outlined in the talking points and fact sheet.
WE ALSO ANTICIPATE THAT OTHER ANTI-CENSUS AND ACS AMENDMENTS COULD ARISE DURING CONSIDERATION OF THE CJS BILL. Therefore, please use the opportunity to ask Senators to OPPOSE ALL AMENDMENTS THAT REDUCE THE FUNDING LEVEL FOR THE CENSUS BUREAU (the CJS bill already cuts the Administration’s budget request for the Census Bureau!) AND THAT UNDERMINE THE AMERICAN COMMUNITY SURVEY, INCLUDING AMENDMENTS THAT WOULD MAKE RESPONSE VOLUNTARY. (For Talking Points on that issue, see our fact sheet about the importance of the ACS.)
While the timing of these and other amendments is uncertain due to a filibuster of the CJS bill on gun control issues, the Senate could consider these amendments at any time, so we urge you to reach out to your Senators as soon as possible.
Thank you for your continued support of a fair and accurate 2020 Census and comprehensive ACS!
June 27, 2016 (Updated)
SUPPORT A FAIR AND ACCURATE 2020 CENSUS!
OPPOSE THE VITTER AMENDMENT (#4687) TO ADD
CITIZENSHIP/IMMIGRATION STATUS QUESTIONS TO THE CENSUS FORM
(FY2017 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill – H.R. 2578/S. 2837)
The Vitter amendment seeks to achieve a purpose that is clearly unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution clearly states that apportionment of the House of Representatives is based on a full count of all residents in each state, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.
- Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have concluded that excluding undocumented residents and/or non-citizens from the state population totals used for congressional apportionment would be unconstitutional.
- The 14th Amendment was enacted, in part, to repeal the provision in Article I that counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for apportionment purposes. The Vitter amendment evokes this shameful legacy.
- The 14th Amendment clearly contemplates that all persons will be counted in the decennial census for apportionment purposes, without regard to eligibility to vote. In fact, many population groups that could not (women; African Americans; Native Americans) or cannot (children; noncitizens; incarcerated persons or those who do not have voting rights by virtue of a felony conviction) vote have always been counted in the census for purposes of congressional apportionment and redistricting.
- The U.S. Supreme Court recently confirmed by a vote of 8–0, in Evenwel v. Abbott, that the Constitution envisions that members of Congress will represent the interests of all residents of a congressional district, regardless of a person’s eligibility to vote. The same principle applies to the apportionment of seats in Congress that is the basis for redistricting.
The Vitter amendment would put the accuracy of the 2020 Census at risk in every State and every community.
- Every census since the first enumeration in 1790 has included citizens and non-citizens alike.
- Asking about immigration status in the Census is unnecessarily intrusive and will raise concerns among all respondents – both native-born and immigrant – about the confidentiality and privacy of information provided to the government. This will have a chilling effect and keep many residents from responding, jeopardizing the accuracy of the census in every State and community.
- Congress allocates roughly $450 billion annually in federal program funds to states and localities, for a range of vital services, based on census data. An inaccurate census will skew the fair distribution of program funds for the next decade.
The Vitter amendment would disrupt 2020 Census planning at a pivotal point, undermining years of research and testing and likely increasing census costs significantly.
- The Census Bureau is completing a multi-year research and testing phase of the 2020 Census. By next year, it must finalize all major design elements and prepare for an end-to-end readiness test in early 2018.
- Adding new questions on citizenship and immigration status would require the Bureau to go back to the drawing board on questionnaire design and testing — such a requirement would threaten its ability to be ready to conduct the 2020 Census on time. Yet robust testing would be essential, given the probable chilling effect of adding these questions to the form.
- Furthermore, the Census Act requires the Census Bureau to submit topics to be included in the 2020 Census by April 1, 2017 — a milestone the Bureau approaches only after years of careful testing and evaluation of questions. The Vitter amendment essentially would require the Bureau to conduct a census using untested questions, a sure recipe for disaster and an inaccurate result.
- The results of many years of painstaking research and testing for the 2020 Census would no longer be reliable, because adding new questions on citizenship and immigration status would undoubtedly affect response rates, outreach and advertising strategies, and other important elements of the nation’s most complex peacetime activity. Congress will have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars already spent to design and plan the 2020 Census. The cost of the census will rise significantly as the Bureau tries to evaluate untested questions with little time to spare and then count millions of people who will be more reluctant to participate because of the new queries.
For more information: Terri Ann Lowenthal, Senior Advisor, The Census Project.