The Trump administration announced this week that it will require people to state on their 2020 census forms whether they are United States citizens. While at first blush this may seem fine, in fact it violates the Constitution, discriminates against states with large immigrant communities, and will bias and undermine the results of the census. The ACLU of Hawai‘i condemns this move.

The United States Constitution requires that every ten years an “actual enumeration” of all people living in the country be conducted and that representatives be apportioned among the several states “according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State.” The government conducts the census as a "point in time" count of all people living in the United States to satisfy these constitutional mandates. Because this requires an “actual enumeration” of “the whole number of persons in each State,” it cannot be limited to any one group, including just citizens. The clearly intended effect of including this citizenship question is to scare non-citizens and their citizen relatives from answering the census at all. This is bullying, race-baiting and despicable. And it destabilizes one of the pillars of our representative democracy.

The census data has far-reaching effects. It is used to determine where schools and libraries will be placed, the shape and makeup of voting districts, how roads and highways are planned, how many members of Congress each state gets, and more. The U.S. Census Bureau, charged with collecting this data through mailed surveys and field visits once every ten years, must discharge its duty in a manner that is free of any partisan agenda. But census data can be and has been exploited by the government.

In Hawai‘i, we’ve been witness to internment, one of the darkest periods in American history. It was made even darker by the fact that during World War II, census data from California and Washington, D.C. was weaponized to locate, round up, and inter Japanese-Americans. The Trump administration’s decision to use the census to divide citizens from non-citizens generates frightening echoes of this terrible moment in our history. It violates our democratic ideals and hurts states like Hawai‘i which welcome – and depend upon – immigration.

Fortunately, people are speaking out. Five former Census Bureau directors – both Republicans and Democrats – have announced their opposition to this decision. An increasing number of state attorneys general have filed lawsuits to prevent this. A number of United States Senators – including Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz – are co-sponsoring legislation that would bar this question from the census or prevent these types of last minute changes without congressional oversight. In the House, both Congresswoman Hanabusa and Congresswoman Gabbard have indicated that they will support similar efforts.

We support these efforts and ask all states, all officials, and all people to fight this affront to our democratic values. The census must count people in all communities, not just those whom any single administration favors.

Please join us.

Stand up and be counted.

- Executive Director Joshua Wisch