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Faith groups condemn citizenship question on US census

A line of people living in the U.S. without legal permission wait outside the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles in this Aug. 15, 2012, file photo. California is suing the Trump administration over its decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census. In announcing the lawsuit on March 27, 2018, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says adding such a question is a reckless decision that would violate the U.S. Constitution and cause a population undercount. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Immigrants wait outside the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles in this Aug. 15, 2012, file photo. California is suing the Trump administration over its decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 U.S. census. In announcing the lawsuit on March 27, 2018, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says adding such a question is a reckless decision that would violate the U.S. Constitution and cause a population undercount. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Citing both moral imperatives and concerns about accuracy, religious groups are speaking out against a new citizenship question slated to be included in the 2020 U.S. census.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the census, announced Monday (March 26) it would accept a request made in December by the Department of Justice to include a question about citizenship status — something that hasn’t been on the mandatory survey since 1950. In a statement, officials at Commerce argue the change is an attempt to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

“Citizenship questions have also been included on prior decennial censuses,” the statement reads in part. “Between 1820 and 1950, almost every decennial census asked a question on citizenship in some form.”

However, several religious organizations — many of them progressive-leaning or representing minority faiths — see the decision as potentially doing more harm than good to the census, which is used to determine the allocation of federal funds and the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and member of President Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory board, appeared to criticize the census question indirectly on Wednesday, arguing it evokes fear in immigrants because Congress has yet to pass immigration reform legislation.

“The bottom line is we need to know who resides within our borders,” Suarez said. “The census plays an important role in our way of life and government. Congress’ embarrassing 30-year streak of futility on the issue of immigration reform has led us to the point where a question regarding citizenship strikes instant fear in immigrant communities and visions of mass deportations. Congress must fix our broken immigration system, which in turn will bring people out of the shadows, allow a proper census and more importantly allow families to live the American dream without fear.”

Liberal religious organizations and denominations were more forceful in expressing their displeasure.

Barbara Weinstein, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued a statement railing against the decision, referring to the “Jewish responsibility to support the engagement of all people.”

“We strongly condemn the Department of Commerce’s decision to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census,” Weinstein, whose denomination is the largest Jewish one in the U.S., said. “At a time when America’s immigrant communities feel increasingly threatened, the effects of this decision are not hard to foresee: Census response rates from immigrant communities will be suppressed, undermining the Census’s integrity overall.”

The Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, said in an email the new citizenship question “is a not so subtle attempt to disenfranchise vulnerable communities and diminish their capacity to affect their political future.” The Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of the progressive faith-based organization Faith in Public Life, derided the decision as a “discriminatory change.” Catholic nun Sister Simone Campbell, head of Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, invoked the Christian belief that all people are created in God’s image, saying in a statement that “implementing a question designed to suppress respondents is evidence of the Republican desire to control who matters in our country.”

One of the most forceful critiques came from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose news release described the question as part of the Trump administration’s “white supremacist agenda” designed to “drag our nation back to the false ‘white paradise’ of the 1950s.”

The criticisms echoed a letter sent to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Jan. 10 by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — a coalition that includes several faith groups. It asked him to reject the Department of Justice’s “untimely and unnecessary” request for a citizenship question on the census, saying doing so would “destroy any chance for an accurate count, discard years of careful research, and increase costs significantly.”

Signatories included an array of faith-based groups, such as the General Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church, Sikh Coalition, Franciscan Action Network, PICO California, Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers), National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Bread for the World, Church World Service and Interfaith Worker Justice, among others.

Other faith groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not immediately issue statements or respond to requests for comment.

The faith-based criticisms add to the outcry of several political leaders. At least 12 states plan to sue the Trump administration over the change, arguing it violates the Constitution and fewer people will participate.

The White House redirected requests for comment to officials at the Department of Commerce, who did not immediately respond.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

34 Comments

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  • I used to work in the US Department of Commerce Decennial Census. There is every reason to include a question about US Citizenship in the 2020 Decennial Census. We need to have our representatives to Congress representing US Citizens and legal immigrants. There’s absolutely no moral or factual reason to protect illegal aliens any more than we need to protect tax evaders. The USA accepts over one million new immigrants every year – those who waited their turn and followed the process legally, as I did, and as did my entire family now 4 generations deep.

  • Good for them. Who does not see that adding the citizenship question is nothing but a Trumpian ploy to turn the calendar back?

  • Are you a citizen?……Yes……No.

    Standard information for a country with CITIZENS to provide for.

  • When you’ve taken a wrong turn, “back” may be the only way “out.”
    But I have an idea to defuse the acrimony on this issue. Instead of calling the offenders “illegals,” (because “no human being is ‘illegal'”), why don’t we just call them “line-jumpers?” That puts the matter in its proper context.

  • The line-jumpers think you (and your family) are saps. All they had to do was to cross the border and declare “Hey — this is MY country now” — much easier than putting up with all that bureaucratic nonsense…and the wait-time.

  • How many readers have traveled by car into Mexico? Into Canada? I’ve done so as part of my career countless times, for over 40 years. Most recently I installed the payroll system for Corona Brewing in Nava, Mexico. Last summer I was practicing my French in Quebec.
    Have any you ever crossed a border illegally and upon arrival demanded healthcare and food stamps? Have you demanded to be counted in their census for purposes of representation and federal revenue sharing?
    And if not, why not?

  • The Census counts PEOPLE, tax dodgers, rapists, arsonists, etc. If you really did work there back in the 1940’s, you’d know that that is why citizenship questions were stopped.

  • Robin, those states that feel virtuous about being sanctuaries for illegal aliens are not doing so out of the kindness of their hearts. They cravenly welcome illegal aliens to inflate their headcount for revenue sharing and political purposes. There is a process for entering this exceptional nation. In that process I swore allegiance to uphold its laws. Thank you for welcoming me and my entire family. Now that I am a fellow US citizen let me ask you: Have you ever tried to register your children in a public school district where you don’t pay property taxes? What would happen if you tried?

  • So you are admitting to being incorrect, but you just want things to be the way you claimed.

    “In that process I swore allegiance to uphold its laws. ”

    Laws concerning immigration, I would guess you know nothing about. Making such statements hollow nonsense.

    ” Have you ever tried to register your children in a public school
    district where you don’t pay property taxes? What would happen if you
    tried?”

    Its real easy. Ask anyone who rents their home in a given community.

    Besides SCOTUS already ruled that children of illegal aliens are entitled to access to public schools. So a census question concerning citizenship is unnecessary for such purposes.

    You are pretty much telling me, you want the Census to be gamed and deliberately incorrectly count the population because you do not like the people being counted. That doesn’t bode well for someone who supports our nation and its laws.

  • There is no such thing as “the line”.

    But then again I do not expect white supremacists demonizing immigrants of any stripe to have knowledge of how the system works.

  • Not necessary for a census. Something which counted all people, citizens or not. Of course if the purpose is to game the system and deliberately under count people in areas with large immigrant populations, then it does the job.

    Unfortunately for you, that is not a legitimate use of a census.

  • You are not answering the question. From inception citizenship was never a requirement to being counted on a census. Given the abuse of public resources by our current administration against immigrants of all types, the move can only be seen as a way to distort and game the census and skew elections in an untoward manner.

    Republicans do not like fair elections.

  • “why don’t we just call them “line-jumpers?”

    Because no such line exists. It would be incorrect.

  • Then your assertion is that citizenship means nothing.

    It is necessary to know how many citizens and how many non citizens in order to determine how much the citizens have to pay to provide for the citizens and for the non citizens.

  • My assertion is based on our Constitution. One which stated that even non-citizens were counted for purposes of apportionment. Which included at the time women, children, slaves and non-land holding males.

    Your assertion is pulled out of your posterior.

    It is necessary to know HOW MANY PEOPLE to determine the goals of the census. The whole point of the citizenship question is to frustrate accurate counting and promote fear of the census takers in immigrant communities. To intimidate and game the census.

    After all we have a federal government which has taken to hanging around hospitals, day care centers and court houses to go after day laborers and domestic workers.

  • “The line” consists of people who choose to do what immigration law requires of them – to apply for citizenship using the proper forms and going through the proper procedures. Are you saying there are no such people?

  • “Are you saying there are no such people?”

    Nope. Because such conditions as you describe do not exist.

    You are speaking entirely out of your sphincter here. There is nothing even resembling a “line” in our immigration system let alone one which is allegedly jumped by illegal aliens.

    Application for legal entry and citizenship is extremely limited and the notion that these people had legal options to come here and stay but chose not to is a fiction.

    The closest equivalent to a “line jumper” are the people who buy their visas. About $250,000 buys a foreign investor permanent residency visa. $500,000 buys one which includes immediate family.

    Immigration is a subject most right wing nuts chime in on without a drop of knowledge of the subject. You are proving to be no different.

  • I’m speaking of people who choose to do what immigration law requires of them– to apply for citizenship using the proper forms and going through the proper procedures. If you want to call that a “process,” or an “administrative inconvenience,” rather than a “line, ” that’s your semantic quibble.

  • You are making up garbage and using a silly analogy to cover for your complete and utter lack of knowledge of the subject at hand.

    There are only proper forms and proper procedures for certain classes of people. One which is semi-arbitrary and clearly does not represent the actual labor needs of the country.

    Typical conservative argument on immigration depends entirely on assumption and ignorance of the system being discussion. There is no line either metaphorically or actually. Immigration creates its own personal hells for applicants. Of course it points to a key problem with USCIS. Fools like you would rather fund ICE than those processing legal visas. Creating a self-perpetuating problem.

  • It’s a simple distinction: people who cross the border legally and apply for the appropriate legal status – versus those who slip across the border and claim legal status as their privilege. One is legal…and controllable (control of one’s borders being an indispensible part of being a “nation”); the other is illegal and uncontrollable. If you can’t acknowledge that elementary difference, then we’re stuck at your favorite level of the ad hominem duel: “personal slurs at a digital distance.”

    Why should America be the only “nation” that’s not allowed to control its borders? Is it because our current policy doesn’t “represent the actual labor needs of the country?” The answer to that “problem” is to change the policy, in the way and by the body that’s set up to make such changes – not by encouraging people to just disregard the regulations. No, the real answer to why America can’t be allowed to control its own borders is because that policy doesn’t represent the actual voter needs of progressive politicians.

  • Insulting me does not strengthen your position, it only diminishes you.
    Repeating my point, if you count all the citizens and all the non citizens, then add the two numbers, you have a total of everyone. This automatically includes women, children, slaves and non land-holding males.
    If the goal of the census is to determine how many people are in the country, then the number obtained can be processed with usual and customary standard deviations to derive meaningful data.
    To exclude one datapoint for political reasons and still include all the other measurements…age, sex, race, income, etc, is the real ulterior motive! Namely, to hide the fact that there are 30 million illegals in the country… not the popular lie of 11 million!

  • So you are insistent in your ignorance and a liar to boot. The Constitution’s own text described counting citizen and non citizen alike.

    You are looking to have the census distorted and gamed for the purpose of fixing elections and funding apportionment. The purpose of the question is to have people afraid of answering the census. To avoid accurate counting.

    You are talking out of your posterior here to promote an intentionally corrupt plan.

    “Namely, to hide the fact that there are 30 million illegals in the country… not the popular lie of 11 million!”

    Not a fact at all. But a figure made up whole cloth by nativists and conservatives who do not want an accurate census.

    The US already has a history of using the census to target specific demographic groups for discrimination.

  • It’s a nonsense analogy based on willful ignorance as to how our immigration system works. Only certain classes of people can even apply for legal entry. You are implying legal means existed.

    Either way, it does down to your support of corrupting the census for partisan purposes. It also comes down to someone who feels the need to make silly statements about immigration without a drop of knowledge on the subject.

    Your BS about the borders is a deflection. I said nothing about border security. Nothing about illegal aliens relates to it. Once one is past the border, new considerations are in play. It’s not about securing the border, it’s about what you do with those already past it while maintaining a free and democratic society. Evidently you are more than willing to attack elements of a free society and blame illegal aliens for it.

  • Don’t you see how you benefit? The census counts the 30 million illegals in order to determine how much it costs to support them. At $40,000 annually per, we taxpayers would pay $1,200,000,000,000 to support them. Then, the 11 million of you would get, instead of 40K per year, a whopping $1,090,090 annual stipend of our gratitude for you being here.
    Don’t miss out on this, ‘bro.

  • You are talking about deliberately distorting the census based on wild paranoid and factually incorrect nonsense.

    Illegal aliens don’t collect any benefits barring those given to indigents to keep.them from being public hazards. You are starting with phony assumptions and expanding on them.

    Sorry but I don’t even take your per person figure at face value, not need to let alone your projected one. You don’t even cite a source. My bet is you are cribbing stuff from nativity claptrap like NumbersUSA, CIS or FAIR. Groups with a white supremacist and anti immigration agenda known for fabricating their support.

    Why don’t you want an accurate count of people in the country? Your view doesn’t make a bit of sense. All the question does is get people to turn away census takers.

  • What it “comes down to” is this: “My motives are good; yours are bad – end of discussion.…I win.”

    You wish.

  • Whenever a conservative reaches the limits of their knowledge of the immigration system, they go right into a nonsense tirade about “border security”. They make strawman arguments that their opponents somehow oppose it. Even though it is an irrelevance to the discussion and a complete nonsense point that nobody ever actually adopts.

    You demonstrated quite well that you have no clue what you are talking about and made it clear you want the census to be inaccurate and gamed simply out of malice against illegal aliens.

    Its amazing what kind of destructive BS conservatives will adopt if it means “sticking it to illegal aliens”. Even attacking the citizenship rights of every American born here (inherent when they use the term “anchor baby”) or attacking legal immigration (when they use the term “chain migration”).

    Now you want a deliberately inaccurate census because it makes it easier to game elections with improper apportionment.

  • I guess you have brought this full circle back to my original comment…
    ”Are you a citizen….Yes…..No.”
    This question deliberately distorts the census?
    Actually this question exposes you as a certified Snowflake.

  • “This question deliberately distorts the census?”

    Yes, you dishonest slime. It encourages immigrants to avoid answering the census and you know it. If immigration wants to find illegal aliens they can use another method. The census is too important for all people here to use for such nonsense.

    Why do you want an inaccurate census? Because you want to game elections with inaccurate district populations. Republicans do not like fair elections.

    The garbage nativist bigots propose because they want to “stick it to the illegals” is dangerously stupid. Evidently creating a police state is preferable to dealing with a situation sanely.

    But then again you went in this convo lying like a cheap rug with paranoid nonsense.

    I can take whatever criticism you level. You have nothing of value here.

  • You are too stupid to even understand how a census works as well. Go figure.

    So now we are in a police state where such things are compulsory? Nope.

    It’s amazing how frothing at the mouth nativist bigots can be conned into attacking civil liberties of everyone. Great stooges for a dictatorship.

  • Mr. Spuddie, are you an immigrant in the US? Have you ever been an immigrant in any other nation? If a question about US Citizenship scares illegal immigrants, then it is having exactly the desired intent. Illegal immigrants within our borders have every reason to fear consequences of violating our laws. When I was a legal immigrant I filed my annual paperwork with the US Department of State, and later fulfilled the requirements for US Citizenship. That’s exactly what millions of other legal immigrants have done throughout our history. But now Democrat politicians want to inflate their headcount with illegal aliens so as not to lose Congressional seats and to increase federal revenue sharing. I know this is their intent because Xavier Becerra said so. Also, for 5 years I worked in the federal government and personally supervised and conducted special censuses between the Decennials in 5 states. In spite of your politically derived protestations in defense of counting and protecting illegal aliens there is absolutely no legal, moral or factual reason to fail to ask a US Citizenship question in the Decennial Census. That’s exactly Bill Clinton did: https://ntknetwork.com/flashback-bill-clintons-census-asked-about-citizenship/

  • http://thefederalist.com/2018/04/02/blue-states-sue-200-year-old-census-citizenship-question/

    “The question of novelty is easiest to answer. The first time the census asked about citizenship status was in 1820, which is actually before the census even introduced individual-level questions about age and sex (before 1850, all questions focused on the head of household, with other household members usually not named).”

    “But in 1900, we got our modern citizenship question: anyone born in the United States was counted as a native-born citizen, including emancipated former slaves, while people not born in the United States but naturalized were naturalized citizens, and everyone else non-citizens. That question persisted until 1950.”

    “So in 1980, 1990, and 2000, the census long form asked about citizenship. It’s simply false to say that no census since 1950 has asked about citizenship: long-form recipients did not fill out short-form censuses. The long form was the census for them. Asked of, usually, about one of every six Americans, the long form was a monumentally huge “sample,” bigger than any other non-complete survey ever done. The long form is fundamentally dissimilar from even big population surveys like the ACS or CPS, in that it replaces the census baseline for its respondents, rather than supplementing it.”

    “In other words, having a citizenship question on the census is not new. We skipped asking citizenship for one census, 2010. Before that, it was periodically asked as far back as 1820. Citizenship is a normal thing to include in a major government survey, hence why virtually all major government surveys do include a question about citizenship. The history of this question makes it seem likely that asking about it is entirely legal: there was no problem when we asked about it the other times, why would it be illegal now?”

    The answer is obvious. Just look at California.

  • Are you trying to make an ad hominem argument? Looks that way.

    I have yet to see conservatives who speak about immigration who knew a thing about the subject. Inflaming bigotry is too much of their political platform for them to bother to learn about it. People who talk about enforcing laws they know nothing about are worthless.

    “Illegal immigrants within our borders have every reason to fear consequences of violating our laws. ”

    Or instead of wasting resources on something which has been futile, damaging and enabling of organized crime, consider something as rational as manual labor visas. But then again, you can’t attack minorities with government agents with something so useful and rational. So conservatives hate such ideas.

    ” But now Democrat politicians want to inflate their headcount with illegal aliens so as not to lose Congressional seats and to increase federal revenue sharing.”

    The census always counted non-citizens as well. From inception. There is no “inflated” headcount, there is the accurate one. Republicans want to game the census to harm districts with large cities and immigrant populations. Areas least likely to vote their way now that they have embraced white supremacy whole hog as of late.

    Republicans love making crap up about using immigrants for some kind of mythical unfair advantage. But the reality is they use immigrants for a convenient group to focus socially acceptable bigotry. Hate gets votes.

    “When I was a legal immigrant I filed my annual paperwork with the US Department of State, and later fulfilled the requirements for US Citizenship. That’s exactly what millions of other legal immigrants have done throughout our history.”

    And something not every immigrant can do. You are lying if you think that is an option for all. Your annual paperwork? What class visa were you?
    “.I know this is their intent because Xavier Becerra said so. ”

    Bull effing —-. Give a link to a real news story about it. You guys are not particularly credible on the subject.

    ” there is absolutely no legal, moral or factual reason to fail to ask a US Citizenship question in the Decennial Census.”

    Tell that to the Japanese who were interned based on census data. Considering the outright hostility of the current administration to immigrants and its complete lack of respect for rule of law on the subject, in context, the question lacks any justifiable basis.

    “That’s exactly Bill Clinton did”

    Bill Clinton wasn’t attacking sanctuary cities, using nativist appeals to drum up a voting base, using ICE to troll hospitals, daycare centers and courthouses, nor creating quotas for easy target illegals. Trump is deliberately trying to skew the census and avoid counting people who should be counted by it.

    Your link is from a source nobody has to take at face value
    https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ntk-network/
    “…they take a credible source of information and use spin to create a different narrative. So, the information may be factual, but the message may lack context or mislead with a right wing bias. An excellent example is how NTK Network routinely reported on the Clinton Uranium story when it has been debunked for several years. Overall, we rate NTK Network Right Biased based on story selection/wording and Mixed for factual reporting due to promotion of debunked stories and use of sources that have failed fact checks”

    Whataboutism and deflection are pretty much all Trump supporters have because they are too ashamed to discuss what he does right now.

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