July 27, 2018

Ms. Jennifer Jessup
Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer
Department of Commerce
Room 6616
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC 20230 

RE: Comments on Proposed Information Collection on 2020 Census, Docket No. USBC-2018-0005

Dear Ms. Jessup, 

Human Rights Watch writes to offer comments on the 2020 Census proposed information collection. We strongly urge the Department of Commerce to remove the proposed new citizenship question from the 2020 Census form. We join the six former directors of the Census Bureau and two former Commerce Secretaries from Republican and Democratic administrations, the 17 state attorney generals suing the federal government, the hundreds of members of Congress, mayors, civil and human rights groups and faith leaders representing diverse viewpoints and constituencies in opposing this question. This is because the citizenship question jeopardizes the accuracy of the entire census and therefore threatens the human rights of people living in every community in the country.

The expert consensus is that the citizenship question will cause participation in the census to plunge. This can be expected in an environment where immigrants are living in heightened fear of the federal government due to the rhetoric and policies of the current administration. This question is being added despite the research and testing that would be necessary to ensure an accurate census. Internal Census Bureau documents clearly articulate how the addition of a citizenship question would depress census response rates, drive up costs, and diminish the accuracy of census data. The decline in responses is expected not only from immigrant communities but from many citizens as well, including some of the most marginalized people in the country. If this question is not removed, every person in the country will be harmed, but the communities that are already at greater risk of being undercounted – including people of color, young children, and low-income rural and urban residents – will suffer the greatest consequences.

The essential goal of the decennial census is to produce an accurate count of all people residing in the country. From this count, the federal government not only apportions seats in the US House of Representatives among the states but also uses census-derived data to direct at least $800 billion annually in federal assistance to states, localities, and families. State and local governments, local communities and businesses use this data to guide decisions affecting schools, housing, healthcare services, and much more. International human rights law recognizes a right to education, a right to the highest attainable standard of health, a right to social protection for those in need, and a right to an adequate standard of living. All are potentially undermined by an inaccurate count. Inaccurate counts of residents in any state or community will have repercussions for all people, citizen or not, living within that community. The US has also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to political participation. Fair political participation for all citizens in the US is at risk due to this question.

Asking an untested question about citizenship status will depress response rates, increase costs, and ultimately result in an inaccurate Census. Because accurate, objective data is necessary for ensuring the human rights for all residents in the country, we strongly oppose the inclusion of the question and urge the Department of Commerce to remove the question from the 2020 Census data collection forms.


Nicole Austin-Hillery
Executive Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch