Ranking Member Nadler Statement at GOP’s Anti-Immigrant Subcommittee Hearing on the U.S. Census

Jun 8, 2018 Issues: Immigration

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) spoke out against the census citizenship question meant to suppress immigrant participation at a House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice hearing on the Census. The witnesses include anti-immigrant extremists and the Director of Research at the Conservative Center for Immigration Studies, an organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ranking Member Nadler’s remarks, as prepared, follow:

“Mr. Chairman, for the first time since 1950, the census questionnaire in 2020—at the request of the Justice Department—will ask respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens.  As one of our witnesses, Dr. Steve Murdock, will explain, without thorough testing and analysis, the effects of adding a citizenship question are unknown, and open to an array of dangerous consequences.

“We know, for example, that this new policy is, in essence, as the ACLU warns, “a door-to-door government inquiry as to the citizenship status of every member of every household in the United States.”  This, it argues “will dramatically reduce participation by immigrant communities, stunting their growing political influence and depriving them of economic benefits.”

“I share these concerns, as do several leading organizations committed to upholding civil rights and protecting the interests of immigrants, as well as various state and local governmental entities. To date, at least six lawsuits have been filed against the Trump Administration challenging the legality of adding this query to the 2020 census questionnaire, including one filed by my own state of New York, along with several other states and localities.

“In addition, more than 100 of our colleagues in Congress have signed onto letters expressing their concern that an untested citizenship question may compromise preparations for the 2020 Census and could jeopardize the accuracy of the count in all communities.  Further, six former census directors from both Democratic and Republican administrations oppose this change, including Dr. Murdock.  Yet, in service of a narrow political agenda, the Trump Administration believes it knows better.          

“From its earliest days to the present, the Administration has relentlessly pushed an anti-immigrant agenda, and it has blatantly disregarded civil rights protections, as evidenced by its continuous efforts to roll back civil rights enforcement. Yet, the Justice Department now seeks to use its supposed interest in protecting civil rights to justify this change to the census questionnaire.  I find the Department’s purported justification for requesting this change, namely, that it is “critical to [its] enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting” to be not only disingenuous, but offensive.  Such justification appears to be no more than a thinly veiled smokescreen for the political motivations behind this costly and unwise decision. 

“The Constitution, as amended by the 14th Amendment, provides that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State[.]”  Clearly, this mandate is intended to ensure that all individuals are counted, regardless of their citizenship status. 

“Thus, changes to our nation’s census process that may have the effect—either intentionally or unintentionally—of diminishing the number of people counted, particularly when it targets one category of people, must not be taken lightly.  Allowing political considerations to taint census-related decisions that should be driven strictly by scientific considerations and quality standards does a disservice to an agency with a proud tradition of scientific excellence and independence. 

“Hopefully, we can learn a lesson from history.  At the time of the first census in 1790, some of our most influential constitutional framers were directly involved in overseeing the effort, with Representative James Madison of Virginia reportedly recommending at least five of the initial six questions and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson supervising the overall effort.  Subsequently, there was controversy about the results, with both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson expressing skepticism over the final count, because they expected a number exceeding the 3.9 million inhabitants found in the enumeration. 

“Like our Founders, I believe our primary Constitutional duty is to ensure that no one is left out of the census.   An accurate count is one of the most important civil rights issues to come before this Subcommittee. Not only is it central to apportioning political power at every level of our representative form of government, but the data collected also influences the allocation of more than $800 billion in federal funds every year, along with countless policy and investment decisions by government agencies and private entities. 

“Mr. Chairman, the conduct of the decennial census was never supposed to be a political function.  The Constitution mandates a count of every person in the United States in order to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the States. Since 1790 every census has included citizens and non-citizens alike.  Though the census has political consequences, the conduct of the census must be strictly nonpartisan and non-political. 

“I do agree that robust oversight is necessary to protect the integrity of the census process and accuracy of the results.  Accordingly, I thank the Chairman for holding this hearing and therefore look forward to hearing all of our witnesses today.”

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