Center for American Progress Action

STATEMENT: Angela Kelley on the Vitter Amendment for Census
Press Statement

STATEMENT: Angela Kelley on the Vitter Amendment for Census

Washington D.C. – The following is a statement from Angela Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

The proposal by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Bob Bennett (R-UT) to add a new question to the census form that asks for citizenship information should be rejected by anyone who cares about the census’s integrity. Senators Vitter and Bennett are using the amendment as a distraction to grind the Senate’s forward motion on the Commerce, Justice, and Science fiscal year 2010 Appropriations bill—which funds the census—to a halt.

Their proposal has been forcefully opposed by former directors of the Census Bureau who served under Republican and Democratic administrations because it would jeopardize the accuracy of the count. As eight former directors noted in an October 16, 2009 statement:

“We can say unequivocally that adding an untested question at this late point in the decennial process would put the accuracy of the enumeration in all communities at risk and would likely delay the start of the census and all subsequent activities, such as reapportionment of the House of Representatives and reporting of detailed population figures under Public Law 94-171.”

That alone should put support for this amendment beyond question.

If enacted, the Vitter amendment would affect the timing of the census count that is already underway until new forms are printed, thereby likely resulting in a delay of congressional reapportionment after 2010 and redistricting of congressional and state legislative districts. It would also waste $7 billion in taxpayer dollars that have been spent on research, planning, and preparation for the 2010 census.

What makes it worse, however, is the pernicious intent behind it. Adding a citizenship question to the questionnaire is clearly designed to deter participation by foreign-born U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Undercounting these groups will lead to structural disenfranchisement of immigrant communities across the country.

Moreover, the census data helps determine not only the apportionment of representation for each state, but the funding that goes to state and local governments. These senators’ efforts to deter participation and an accurate count of the population thus seek to secure unequal treatment of communities, which violates the census’s basic goals.

As the census directors themselves noted:

“Less than six months before Census Day, and only several months before the count starts, is not the time to place a decade of careful and demanding preparations at risk.”

This proposal is politics of the worst sort.