One Year Until the 2020 Census; What We Do Today Counts!

By Shiva Sethi

In exactly one year, the 2020 Census will go out to households across the nation. Our constitution requires the government to conduct this count, which records who we are as a nation, every 10 years. It shows how we’ve changed and helps us predict where we’re going. But the 2020 Census is under attack, and the stakes are too high for us to ignore these threats.

In addition to the many uses of the census in the private sector, policymakers use it to determine congressional representation, invest over $800 billion in federal funds, and shape other legislative decisions. When people and communities are left out, they lose representation and critical services. This can mean entire communities receiving less funding than they need for Medicaid, Head Start, and many other programs. Undercounting has a ripple effect—when individuals aren’t counted, entire communities suffer.

Those most frequently missed by the census include young children, communities of color, and people who have low incomes. The proposed addition of a citizenship question, which is the greatest threat to the validity of the 2020 Census, would likely worsen the count for all of these populations.

A citizenship question would make the census less accurate because households with immigrant family members could be less likely to participate if it is included. This would create a dramatic undercount of noncitizens—as well as U.S. citizens—because many immigrant families live in mixed status families.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, immigrant communities have endured a wave of cruel anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies including the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) along with proposals to restrict access to programs that support basic needs. These actions have consequences—including for children.  If parents choose not to complete the census for fear of immigration enforcement, many U.S. citizen children will be missed. A quarter of all children under five in the country have at least one immigrant parent; over 90 percent of those children are citizens.

CLASP’s 2018 reports about immigrant children and families document a climate of fear that leads families to avoid interacting with government agencies, and even withdrawing from and declining help to meet basic needs like child care and nutrition assistance. Because of fear of immigration enforcement, parents are forgoing baby formula, workers aren’t reporting wage theft, and young people are leaving school. In this context, it’s easy to understand why immigrant families would choose not to identify their citizenship status on a government form.

Advocates have been fighting against the question since the Trump Administration proposed it. Almost 150,000 individuals and organizations including CLASP submitted public comments about the citizenship question, the vast majority of which were opposed to it. After a U.S. district judge ruled against the question, the Supreme Court agreed to review the ruling and will likely issue its final decision by the end of June.

In the meantime, advocates must continue drawing attention to the importance of an accurate 2020 Census through websites like and voicing their opposition to the citizenship question. The census is too important for us to remain silent.