Legislation Introduced to Rescind Order to Collect Citizenship Status Information
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) led a group of senators on July 24, 2019, in pushing back against President Donlad Trump’s executive action which orders federal agencies to turn over citizenship data from existing government records for political purposes.
Sen. Schatz introduced new legislation, supported by 13 senators, to overturn Trump’s executive order.
“It is sad to see the lengths this administration will go to politicize citizenship data and distort our democracy. Three courts have ruled against their efforts, and yet they won’t stop. So we’re not going to stop either,” Sen. Schatz said.
The legislation to overturn Trump’s executive order is cosponsored by US Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Sen. Schatz also led 14 senators in a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Attorney General William Barr warning that the Senate could restrict federal funds that would be used to carry out the order.
“The executive order directing federal agencies to compile citizenship data through administrative records and merge it with decennial census data is a blatant effort to collect this information for political and discriminatory purposes,” the senators wrote. “We will work to prohibit the Department of Commerce, or any other agency, from using federal funds to carry out this action.”
In addition to Schatz, the letter is also signed by US Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
This follows previous efforts led by Sen. Schatz to stop the administration from obtaining and weaponizing citizenship data. Sen. Schatz led a group of 20 senators in writing to the Commerce Department’s inspector general asking for a review of the last-minute addition of the question. Schatz also led a bicameral group of over 30 current and former members of Congress on an amicus brief to Supreme Court supporting a lawsuit to stop the question from being added.
The full text of the letter can be found below:
Dear Secretary Ross and Attorney General Barr:
The executive order directing federal agencies to compile citizenship data through administrative records and merge it with decennial census data is a blatant effort to collect this information for political and discriminatory purposes. We write in strong opposition to this attempt to inappropriately mix this administration’s harmful immigration policies with the ordinarily nonpartisan decennial census and nonpartisan work of federal statistical agencies generally. Furthermore, we will work to prohibit the Department of Commerce, or any other agency, from using federal funds to carry out this action.
Litigation surrounding the administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census form, as well as documents from a partisan operative recently disclosed as part of that litigation, revealed that the proposal to collect citizenship information was designed both to depress the 2020 Census count and to be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” and “clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” in gerrymandering efforts. Furthermore, in his remarks on the proposed citizenship question, Attorney General Barr raised the possibility that these data could be used to change the population base used for congressional apportionment—a purpose, we should note, that would blatantly violate the U.S. Constitution’s apportionment clause.
In addition, the president justified his executive order by citing the use of citizenship data for immigration and other public policy purposes, stating, for example, that “data on the number of citizens and aliens in the country is needed to help us understand the effects of immigration on our country and to inform policymakers considering basic decisions about immigration policy,” and that “[t]he Federal Government’s need for a more accurate count of illegal aliens in the country is only made more acute by the recent massive influx of illegal immigrants at our southern border.”
The president’s executive order bypasses the successful legal challenges to the citizenship question and forces this information into 2020 Census data using methods that have not been reviewed for accuracy, legality, and feasibility. This is an unlawful overreach of executive authority. The failed attempt to add a citizenship question clearly illustrated the true intent of this administration to assist discriminatory redistricting, apportionment, and public policy decisions that harm communities of color, and particularly immigrant populations.
The president’s attempt to sustain the controversy over citizenship data in the decennial census—which is the basis for allocating federal funding and congressional and legislative districts—makes clear that his purpose is not a robust 2020 Census, but rather a partisan and discriminatory attack on people living in our country. Our government must never use decennial census data to otherize, separate, or disenfranchise people living in our country.