Call to Action for Philanthropy: Census 2020 Citizenship Question

Monday, July 2, 2018

The decennial census is a cornerstone of civic life in America. Mandated by the United States Constitution, it is intended to reflect our country’s population and the composition of our communities. An accurate count is essential for determining political representation, as well as guiding the allocation of tens of billions in federal dollars for critical programs and services.
On June 8, 2018, the Census Bureau announced the possible addition of a question that asks about citizenship status. Adding this citizenship question would put at grave risk the ability to achieve an accurate count in 2020.
Historically, the census has missed disproportionate numbers of immigrants and refugees as well as other vulnerable or hard-to-count populations (e.g., those with limited English proficiency, adults with low levels of education attainment, female-headed households, farmworkers, and ethnic minorities), resulting in persistent inequities.
The addition of the citizenship question would only exacerbate the situation by fueling already rampant fear in immigrant communities that the federal government will use the information against them, even the millions who are lawfully present. It would drive down the overall census response rate and lead to an undercount of non-citizens, which would impair the ability not only to address the needs of hard-to-count populations but also to achieve equity for everyone.
For 60 days (until August 7, 2018), this proposed regulation is open for public comment. (Note: Submitting comments as part of the rule-making process does NOT constitute lobbying and is permissible for private foundations. For more information, please see this legal memorandum.) This brief window is one of the few opportunities for philanthropy to influence the outcome on this critical census issue, which impacts virtually every philanthropic priority. We encourage you to take action today:

  • Sign on to the national funders’ letter, which will be submitted to the Department of Commerce, urging it to withdraw the citizenship question. Email Gary Bass with your name, title, organization, and city/state by July 28, 2018.
  • Submit an individual comment. 
    • Even if you sign on to the national funders’ letter above, it is important that you also submit your own letter. 
    • To send your letter, go to and click on the button that says “Comment Now.” You can upload your letter or enter your comment directly on the website. Follow the instructions to preview what you posted and then accept the submission. This must be done by August 7, 2018 to count.
    • Once you have completed your submission, please send a copy to Cara Brumfield at Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality so they can track submissions. The Commerce Department has indicated that they may publish only a high-level summary of comments instead of all individual submissions.
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