Supreme Court Decision Blocks Citizenship Question, Helping Ensure Complete Census Count in New Jersey
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a victory for census advocates, keeping the citizenship question off the 2020 Census. Read opinion.
Encouraged by this ruling, non-profits and communities across New Jersey will continue our work to ensure maximum participation and inclusion in the 2020 Census — particularly among hard-to-count communities like people of color, urban and low-income households, immigrants, limited-English proficient populations and young children.
"The census clock is ticking. We must continue to remind our leaders of the widespread support of a fair and accurate census that does not include an untested, unnecessary and harmful citizenship question," said Peter Chen, policy counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey and coordinator of the Census 2020 NJ Coalition. "We must continue to raise our voices to ensure maximum participation and inclusion in the 2020 census — particularly among hard-to-count communities like people of color, urban and low-income households, immigrants, limited-English proficient populations and young children."
The accuracy of the census goes beyond the survey itself. The 2020 Census count will be used to determine federal funding for key programs like Medicaid, Head Start and school funding, as well as determine political representation and district boundaries for a decade to come.
Census data are protected by the strictest confidentiality protections in federal law. Census employees may not reveal a person’s data gathered through the census to anyone. That means they can’t share personal census data with federal agencies, immigration authorities, law enforcement or courts of law. Civil rights groups and legal teams from across the country are working to make sure that a person's census data cannot be used to harm them.
“As one of the nation’s most diverse states, New Jersey’s residents may be at especially high risk for a census undercount,” said Chen. “The removal of the citizenship question from the census form will lift the culture of fear that might have prevented families from filling out the census and remove an obstacle towards an accurate count.”
New Jersey's census count must be as accurate as possible to keep marginalized communities from losing even more of the resources and representation they deserve and to ensure we get our fair share from Washington.
The deadline for the Census Bureau to finalize census forms is October 31, 2019, leaving a very tight timetable for operational preparations and securing IT systems before the count begins in less than six months. Concern about the potential of a citizenship question will continue to erode trust in the census and increase the likelihood of an unacceptable undercount.
New Jersey’s non-profit and community-based organizations remain committed to a complete count in 2020.
The following are quotes from Coalition members (indicated with an asterisk) and supporters:
*Advocates for Children of New Jersey: “This decision reinforces a bedrock principle of the census -- that everyone must count, no matter their background. Children under age 5 are the most undercounted age group in the country, and New Jersey must redouble its efforts to make sure they are all counted in 2020,” said Peter Chen, policy counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “New Jersey’s young children will still be at high risk of an undercount, and even without the citizenship question, we will need extraordinary efforts to ensure that all children in immigrant households are counted.”
*Asian American Federation: “The Supreme Court’s decision to leave off the citizenship question for now affirms our belief that the census is for everyone, regardless of background, status or party affiliation. Regardless of the outcome, we must ensure the question stays off the Census, reaffirm our constitutional right to be counted and work to counter the fear of the Census that’s already pervasive in immigrant communities, particularly among Asian Americans who are the least likely of all groups to participate.”
*League of Women Voters - New Jersey: “We are happy to see the Court reject the notion that the purpose of the citizenship question was to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. We must now get to work repairing the damage already done caused by the suggestion of this question. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey is committed to ensuring that everyone is counted and the Census reflects our state’s diverse population,” says Jesse Burns, League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
LUPE PAC: “We are happy to see that SCOTUS has recognized the importance of ensuring a complete count in the 2020 Census. The historically unprecedented move by the current administration in Washington to try to add a question about citizenship was just another attempt to undercount and negatively impact low-income residents and communities of color. We hope the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau respect the Court's decision and proceed with preparing the 2020 Census without this question. While today's decision is a win for democracy, our work is not yet done. We will continue to speak out along with our advocacy partners to secure a complete count to provide access to critical programs and resources for those in need," says Laura Matos, president of LUPE PAC.
NALEO Educational Fund: “While this victory is far from the settled, the nation’s highest court did send a clear message today that future cabinet members and administrations are not free to make arbitrary and politically motivated decisions at will, denying those with ill-intentions the power and discretion to fabricate excuses and ignore facts and laws free from consequences.
“We now call on the New York District Court to remove the citizenship question once and for all so that the U.S. Census Bureau can proceed with the clarity and certainty it needs to execute a Census 2020 that is fair, constitutional and accurate.
“Even if the citizenship question is halted for good, we know this effort to undermine the progress of the Latino community and suppress the count of Latinos has left its mark on Census 2020. Our work mobilizing the nation’s second largest population group remains more important than ever as we attempt to rebuild the trust that has been eroded over the course of this fight. Standing alongside our nation’s Latino leadership and partners, we will work together to educate our community about this important development and make sure that every Latino is counted in the 2020 Census.”
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice: “In New Jersey, we are going to make sure that no one fears being counted. Organizers, advocates and community leaders are working together to make sure every single person has a fair opportunity to fill out the census. Not having a citizenship question is a good start to making sure all who are underrepresented are counted and resources are adequately distributed to all communities,” said Johanna Calle, director of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
*New Jersey Institute for Social Justice: “We are cautiously encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision,” said Patricia D. Williamson, director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s New Jersey Counts Project, which is primarily focused on Census outreach to black communities. “The Commerce Department should respect this decision and proceed to prepare a 2020 Census that does not include the citizenship question. The damage from the citizenship question to acquiring a full and accurate count in 2020 would have been substantial, especially against the backdrop of an already disquieting undercount of people of color and immigrants. We still have our work cut out for us to educate hard-to-count vulnerable communities of color about the importance of completing the Census and to counter any residual chilling effect of the proposed citizenship question, but we are up to the task.”
New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP): “An accurate census is necessary for the government to truly represent its people,” said Erika Nava, policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective. “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is a win for representative democracy and should be upheld by the Trump Administration. This will help ensure a complete Census count and more participation from immigrants and those living in mixed-status households. New Jersey stands to benefit from this decision given the state’s diverse population and high-share of immigrant residents.”
*Wind of the Spirit: Diana Mejia, co-founder of Wind of the Spirit said, “The mere fact that the Supreme Court has issued a decision not to include citizenship questions does not reduce the challenges of getting a fair and accurate count in the 2020 Census. It heightens awareness of an already highly charged issue. It is now more important than ever that we all unite, work together and manifest our best human potential to find ways to decrease the expected undercount, an undercount that will deprive each and every one of us who resides in New Jersey – you, me, our communities, neighbors, co-workers, friends and families – of critical services, funding and data.
“We must build community trust strategies and develop outreach models to address the triggers arising from mental health issues and emotional and psychological traumas and fears of cybersecurity breaches and distrust of government. We must find ways to overcome the fears and empower our hard-to-count communities, in this case, in particular, our immigrant, refugee and asylum seekers, to want to be counted—and to do so, we must ensure their lives and their privacy will be protected by the strictest confidentiality protections and from unlawful and harmful enforcement processes by any government official or agency.
“The stakes are very high, and our moral obligation is too. Please join us and help us to humanize Census 2020 New Jersey so that we all count.”
ACLU of NJ: "The Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the sentence had one overarching aim – to unconstitutionally undercount members of immigrant communities of color, and deprive the residents of states like New Jersey from having political representation. The decision today will allow our census to count everyone, rather than targeting and intimidating immigrant communities. With a full count, all New Jerseyans can participate more fully in civic life and live their lives more freely," says Amol Sinha, ACLU of NJ.
32BJ SEIU New Jersey: “We are glad that the Supreme Court today put the brakes on a harmful decision by federal agencies to add a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. We are hopeful that sending the case back to Census authorities and to the lower courts will result in a reaffirmation of what we know is right, to strike the question and proceed with the full Census count," says Kevin Brown, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU New Jersey.
The Census 2020 NJ Coalition's membership includes groups focusing on outreach to different hard-to-count populations, such as Advocates for Children of New Jersey (children under five), Asian American Federation (Asian residents), Latino Action Network Foundation (Hispanic/Latinx residents), League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Make the Road NJ (immigrants), New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (black residents and urban areas) and Wind of the Spirit (immigrants).
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