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Hirono and Meng Lead Fight Against GOP Attempt to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants from Apportionment

~ Lawmakers send letter to House and Senate leaders seeking to remove language in appropriations bill that would prevent the Census Bureau from including undocumented immigrants and interfere with census data collection ~

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) led 48 other Senators and Representatives in sending a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging the lawmakers to block an attempt by Republicans to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment decisions in the census. This would effectively force Census Bureau to include a citizenship question, damaging the accuracy of the census.

In 2018, President Trump pushed to add a question on the decennial census that would have asked respondents about their citizenship status. Senator Hirono and Representative Meng fought against the plan, and, after the Supreme Court blocked it from moving forward, the Trump Administration abandoned this effort. But now House Republicans are pushing a renewed effort that would effectively require the Commerce Department to ask respondents about their citizenship status. Specifically, Republicans have attached a measure to the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations bill that would require the federal government to unconstitutionally exclude certain individuals when apportioning congressional seats and allocating government resources.

In their letter, Senator Hirono, Representative Meng, and their colleagues argue that Republicans’ effort wouldn’t just target the undocumented community, but would result in inaccurate census data that is used for a variety of important purposes.

“The Constitution requires every person to be counted for in the U.S. Census and our country has never excluded undocumented individuals from the apportionment process,” said Senator Hirono. “This process plays a key role in informing numerous important decisions for our communities, such as determining representation in Congress and allocating government resources. However, despite the Supreme Court blocking Trump’s efforts in the past, House Republicans are still trying to impose a citizenship question in the census and attack vulnerable, underrepresented groups. I will continue to push back against any effort to exclude people—regardless of their citizenship or immigration status—from being counted in the U.S. Census.”

“The GOP hiding their efforts to add a citizenship question to the census in an appropriations bill is reckless and disgraceful,” said Representative Meng. “This is another attack on our nation’s hard-working immigrants. This is not Republicans’ first attempt to silence immigrants. Adding a question about citizenship to the census would only create fear and reduce response rates in immigrant communities. As I said during our previous fight against the creation of a citizenship question, this decrease in response rates would produce an incomplete and therefore inaccurate count of the people living in the United States—the people who are valued workers, students, community leaders, our neighbors and our loved ones. This would impact the distribution of the billions of dollars in federal resources that are provided to schools, infrastructure projects, social services, and other crucial resources, as well as congressional representation in communities throughout the country—for a decade. Our constitution is clear: the census must count every person in our country. We don’t need a citizenship question; we need an accurate census count.

In addition to Senator Hirono and Representative Meng, the letter was signed by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). In the House, the letter was signed by 41 Representatives.

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Speaker Johnson, Minority Leader Jeffries, Majority Leader Schumer, and Minority Leader McConnell,

The U.S. decennial census is a cornerstone of our democracy. It tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation, informs the decisions of both the Executive and Legislative branches in determining how 10 years worth of federal funding are allocated, and dictates how our nation’s voices are heard in the House of Representatives. The importance of a complete and accurate Census cannot be overstated. Therefore, we object to the inclusion of divisive and misguided language that will damage the accuracy of the decennial count.

There have been multiple attempts to exclude non-citizens from the Census or otherwise include a citizenship question to count the number of non-citizens in the country. In the 1979 case Federation for American Immigration Reform vs. Klutznick, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and four U.S. Representatives filed a lawsuit to add a citizenship question to the Census, with the intent of generating a count of non-citizens and their state locations. While the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, the court noted that the case was also weak on the merits, saying that “the language of the Constitution is not ambiguous.” FAIR’s second attempt challenged the Reagan Administration’s plan for the 1990 census and was dismissed without trial.

In March 2018, the Trump administration approved plans to add the question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?,” but it ultimately did not appear on the 2020 census after the effort was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court. During the count itself, President Trump released a memo to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the data used to apportion seats in Congress as a last-ditch effort to interfere with census efforts, all the while eroding public trust at a time when fear and mistrust of the federal government was at a high.

As you begin the process to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bills, we write to strongly urge you to strike Section 559 from the House CJS Appropriations bill, H.R. 5893, which states:

“None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used to allow the United States Census Bureau to include aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States in rendering apportionment determinations in subsequent decennial censuses.”

The Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution enshrines that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State…” Put simply, the Census Bureau is charged with counting every person – not just citizens or persons with documented immigration status – living in the United States. 

Constitutional infirmity aside, Section 559 of the House CJS Appropriations bill, if enacted, would be impossible to implement. It will effectively compel the Census Bureau to add a census question about immigration status, and relies on respondents to be truthful in their answers. When this issue has been proposed in the past, advocacy groups warned that attempts to count non-citizens would stoke concern on the basis of privacy. It would affirm the fears of undocumented immigrants and immigrants with legal status that registering with the government could lead to deportation. Citizens and non-citizens alike would avoid the Census entirely, undermining the accuracy of census numbers used for a myriad of important purposes in every state and community.

The consequences of census meddling both real and perceived are now becoming clear, with a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that found a widening racial and ethnic gap in how accurately different populations are counted in the U.S. Census. The estimated net undercount rate at which Latinos were left out of the 2020 census was more than three times the rate of the 2010 census, whereas the net overcount rate of non-Hispanic white Americans almost doubled.

Section 559 of H.R. 5893 will further exacerbate these issues, leading to an unjust misallocation of federal funding and a House of Representatives that is less representative of our country. These continued high-profile failures to weaponize the Census against immigrant communities cannot go unanswered. We urge you to keep politics out of the vitally important decennial census by removing Section 559 of H.R. 5893 and empowering the Census Bureau to count every person living in the United States for all purposes, including congressional apportionment, as the U.S. Constitution clearly intends.