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House Weighs Bill That Would Add Citizenship Question to 2030 Census

H.R. 7109, dubbed The Equal Representation Act, has sparked intense reactions among civil rights advocates and census experts alike.

All eyes are on Capitol Hill over the coming days as lawmakers weigh the pros and cons of H.R. 7109, a controversial bill that many say could negatively impact the future of representation and census integrity nationwide.

H.R. 7109, dubbed The Equal Representation Act, has sparked intense reactions among civil rights advocates and census experts alike.

“Fair and balanced representation is essential for ensuring that every community receives the resources and services it needs to thrive,” says Rebecca Briscoe, a boots-on-the-ground partnership coordinator for the U.S. Census Bureau during the 2020 Decennial, supervising efforts in Greater Houston and Southeast Texas.

She continued, “As someone who has worked closely with local communities, I’ve seen firsthand the vital importance of an inclusive and accurate census.”

“Is this person a citizen of the US”

At the heart of the matter lies the proposed inclusion of a citizenship question in the decennial census and the subsequent exclusion of noncitizens from the count used for congressional apportionment.

Supporters of the bill, championed by Rep. Chuck Edwards (R. N.C.), argue that incorporating a citizenship question into the census questionnaire is essential for upholding the integrity of electoral processes and ensuring accurate representation.

“Congressional apportionment and electoral votes should be based solely on the needs of American citizens,” argued the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action, part of the right-leaning think tank The Heritage Foundation, in a statement. Heritage Action played a key role in pushing the bill before lawmakers.

On the other side of the debate stand vocal critics, civil rights organizations among them, who vehemently oppose the bill’s provisions, arguing in part that it would violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which dictates that congressional seats be apportioned based on the “whole number of persons in each state.”

The 14th Amendment was enacted to repeal earlier provisions in the U.S. Constitution that treated slaves as three-fifths of a person.

“H.R. 7109 evokes this shameful legacy by treating noncitizens as less than a person,” warned The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a letter to the House Oversight Committee, adding, “H.R. 7109 would undermine 2030 Census accuracy in every state and every community by creating a climate of fear among all immigrants.”

The April 9 letter is co-signed by 74 national civil rights organizations, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Education Fund.

Critics also warn that the bill could jeopardize the equitable distribution of federal resources, essential for supporting vital services across communities.

The non-partisan Texas Census Institute released a public statement that read, in part, “the addition of a citizenship question and the exclusion of noncitizens from congressional apportionment fundamentally alters the constitutional mandate of apportionment, creating imbalances in representation that impact states, congressional districts, and citizens and non-citizens alike.”

To ask or not to ask

This is not the first time the citizenship question loomed over America. In late 2017, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions requested that the Census Bureau incorporate a citizenship question into the 2020 census. Previous census counts from 1820 to 2000 included a citizenship question. The question was scrapped from the census in 2010 under then-President Obama.

The DOJ argued that more detailed citizenship data would aid in enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, aimed at preventing discrimination in voting based on race, color, or language minority status.

The proposed question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” with various response options, sparked immediate controversy.

Opposition swiftly arose from local governments and advocacy groups representing ethnic minorities, citing concerns that the question’s presence would deter noncitizens and legal immigrants from participating in the census out of fear of government repercussions.

As discussions intensified, fear and mistrust of the federal government reached unprecedented levels. Experts warned that the citizenship question could lead to nearly 9 million people, especially immigrants and people of color, not completing their 2020 census forms, potentially skewing demographic data and allocation of resources.

In 2019, the controversy reached its climax when the Supreme Court intervened. In a landmark ruling, the Court blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to include the citizenship question on the 2020 census. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, criticized the administration’s rationale, stating that its use of the Voting Rights Act as justification “seems to have been contrived.”

Then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross, who was nominated to the position by President Donald Trump, expressed disagreement with the Supreme Court’s ruling. The count went on as planned despite various challenges, including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Skewed census counts

Key findings from the Post-Enumeration Survey (PES), which measures the accuracy of a census count, reveal that several states exhibited notable undercounts, including Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas, a fact opponents of the bill say highlights the need for widespread participation of all residents, without fear of intimidation or exclusion.

“It’s imperative that we prioritize the integrity of the census process and focus on counting every individual once, only once, and in the right place, regardless of political considerations,” says Briscoe.

A companion bill, S 3659 is making its way through the Senate. The House version currently has 114 sponsors, all of them Republican. Lawmakers in the House are scheduled to consider the proposal as early as Monday.

The above article by Nakia Cooper is reprinted with the permission of our media partner Ethnic Media Service.

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