MRA delivered the following letter to U.S. Senators today, in advance of floor debate on an amendment that would require the 2020 Census to ask respondents about their immigration status:

Dear Honorable Senator,

On behalf of the Marketing Research Association (MRA), I urge you to oppose Senator David Vitter (R-LA)’s amendment 3279, which he proposes to offer on the Fiscal Year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill (H.R. 4660). The amendment would forbid funding for the Census Bureau to conduct the 2020 decennial headcount “unless the questionnaires used for such census include questions to ascertain United States citizenship and immigration status.”

Asking questions about citizenship and immigration could adversely impact the accuracy of the 2020 Census and America’s ability to know our true population numbers, by deterring many immigrants (legal or illegal) from responding. In the American Community Survey (ACS), which replaced the Census long form, the Census Bureau asks about citizenship, but the Bureau has never asked respondents about their legal status beyond citizenship.

Section 2 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, in reference to the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives, that the decennial Census should count “the whole number of persons in each state” – it makes no reference to citizenship or immigration status, and clearly included people who at the time had no voting rights, such as African and Native Americans. Apportionment is based on population, which is why the federal government includes even children and prisoners in the count. In a September 1989 letter to Congress, President George H. W. Bush’s Justice Department agreed with prior Administrations that the 14th Amendment and the apportionment clause (Article I, section 2) require a decennial census of all U.S. residents, including noncitizens and illegal immigrants.

Decennial Census questions about immigration status might unnecessarily raise concerns among all respondents (whether immigrant or native) about the privacy and safety of the personal information they are providing to the Census Bureau. At a time when some Members of Congress are raising concerns about the intrusiveness of questions in the ACS, why would Congress seek to potentially deter respondents from participating and jeopardize the accuracy of the 2020 Census?

Please oppose the Vitter amendment, and any others that could inhibit the ability of the Census Bureau to execute its Constitutional responsibilities: the ACS and the decennial headcount.

Howard Fienberg, PLC
Director of Government Affairs
Marketing Research Association (MRA)

UPDATE: Agreement to proceed on any amendments to the appropriations legislation could not be reached in the Senate today. Debate may stretch into next week, at least.