News

Scott Novakowski: Speak out against the citizenship question

Institute Associate Counsel Scott Novakowski writes in The Hill:

An undercount means less representation, less federal funding for essential programs, and less protection of our rights. The Census occurs only once every ten years. It’s important that we get a complete and accurate count – there are no do-overs.

Adding an intrusive demand for citizenship status in this political climate will lead to people refusing to complete the census form. That is by design. The demand for citizenship status is part of a deceptive campaign launched by the Trump administration and Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice to accomplish precisely this result.

But we can work together to keep this question off the 2020 Census.

Ryan Haygood: This is our Selma moment

Institute President and CEO Ryan Haygood writes in the Star Ledger:

On the other side of a period of democracy expansion that led to the election of our first black president, it follows that the pendulum would swing back seeking to undermine all progress that has been made.    

The moment is certainly no more difficult than when King set his sights on Selma and built a movement, from the ground up, that made President Johnson sign the VRA. 

And so this is our Selma moment. 

In this difficult national moment, change will occur, as it did in Selma, from the ground up in our communities, despite the racist, xenophobic, and dangerous policies being promoted by national leaders, including President Donald Trump.

If there is a lesson for progressive people to learn from the past 53 years and today, it is that people who care about social justice cannot afford to be timid. 

Remove the Citizenship Question from the 2020 Census

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice submitted comments to the Commerce Department to voice our opposition to the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census: 

Ahead of August 7 deadline, Senator Booker, New Jersey Civil Rights Leaders Oppose Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

On July 24 at 12:30 PM, U.S. Senator Cory Booker joined New Jersey civil rights leaders on a press call to condemn the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The public comment period is open until August 7.

“The 2020 Census count must be accurate, efficient, and completely nonpartisan. Adding a citizenship question to the survey compromises each of these core goals,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “This shameful attempt to inject nativist politics into the Census undermines our very values as Americans. I stand in strong opposition to any efforts by this administration to keep immigrants and people of color in New Jersey and across our nation undercounted and underrepresented in our society.”

In March, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, with the support of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice, announced that he had directed the Census Bureau to add a question to the 2020 Census that would ask for citizenship status. Adding an untested and unnecessary citizenship question is a blatant attempt at intimidation and will certainly lead to an undercount in the nation’s urban areas and communities of color. A number of states, including New Jersey, and civil rights organizations have already sued to ensure there is no citizenship question.

Joining Senator Booker on the press call were:

  • Ryan Haygood, President and CEO, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
  • Johanna Calle, Director, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice
  • Theresa Markila, Advocate, Wind of the Spirit
  • Sara Cullinane, Director, Make the Road New Jersey
  • Amol Sinha, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
  • Jesse Burns, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of New Jersey
  • Inge Spungen, Executive Director, Paterson Alliance
  • Alana Vega, Kids Count Coordinator, Advocates for Children of New Jersey
  • Scott Novakowski, Associate Counsel, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

“Everyone should be counted in the 2020 Census,” said Ryan Haygood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Everyone. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’s shameful attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, in light of the racist, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic policies being promoted by the federal government, promise to discourage people from participating, thereby destroying a full count in New Jersey. We urge New Jersey’s residents to lift their collective voices to ensure that everyone is counted in the 2020 Census.”

“We condemn the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” added Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “This question is meant to inspire fear among our communities but let me be clear: We will not back down and we will not live in fear. We have a right to be counted and to be heard. We demand that this citizenship question be taken off the Census. We are committed to fighting for our communities in New Jersey and across the United States.”

The new citizenship question for the decennial Census will ask of each household member: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Respondents must choose one of the following responses: 1) “Yes, born in the United States[;]” 2) “Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas[;]” 3) “Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents[;]” 4) “Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization - Print year of naturalization[;]” and 5) “No, not a U.S. citizen[.]”

The decennial census is a constitutionally required, once-every-ten-years undertaking to count every person living in the United States. Congress has delegated its authority to conduct the count to the U.S. Department of Commerce and its Census Bureau.

The Census helps determine elected representation and funding. Under the U.S. Constitution, the Census population count is used to determine how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and how many electoral votes each of the 50 states will have for the following decade. Congress allocates at least $600 billion annually in federal grants or direct payments to states, localities, and families for a range of vital programs and services, based on census-derived data. In Fiscal Year 2015 New Jersey received more than $17 billion in federal grants to fund programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and housing vouchers.

"Many New Jersey communities are at high risk for being undercounted in the Census,” said Alana Vega, Kids Count Coordinator for Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Young children are an undercounted population nationally, and in New Jersey, 28 percent of all young children live in hard-to-count areas, comprising more than 140,000 children. An accurate count of young children is critical to funding and supporting programs that support their development. In a state where almost 40 percent of children live in immigrant families, any deterrent to filling out a Census form may make an accurate count more difficult."

Many people of color disproportionately live in hard-to-count (HTC) areas, defined as those jurisdictions in which a low percentage of residents completed and returned the most recent Census questionnaire. According to data released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, 51% of New Jersey’s Black residents and 40% of its Hispanic residents live in HTC areas. In several New Jersey cities, nearly all people of color live in HTC areas. For example, 96% of Newark’s Black residents and 93% of its Hispanic residents live in HTC areas. In Camden City, those figures are 97% and 86%, respectively.

“Even under the best of circumstances, the Census typically undercounts hard-to-count populations including people of color, homeless people, immigrants, and children,” said Scott Novakowski, Associate Counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “The addition of a demand for citizenship status, combined with the climate of intimidation and fear created by this administration, will only exacerbate the undercount, depriving vulnerable communities of the funding and political representation to which they are entitled.”

“A citizenship question on the Census is nothing short of an attack on the ideals of representative democracy and an attempt to strip people of color and immigrants of their democratic power,” added ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “We cannot allow our government to draw lines of division around our communities and deprive us of our fundamental rights, including the fundamental right to be counted. We are ready to fight on all fronts – the courts, the legislatures, the streets – to make sure that all of our voices count, now and in 2020.”

Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, agreed, saying: “The League of Women Voters of New Jersey and the League of Women Voters of the United States oppose the inclusion of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census. The inclusion of this question will discourage participation in the 2020 Census, and undermine the integrity of the Census and our democracy.”



Join Our Team - The Institute is Hiring!

Join our team -- the Institute is hiring for three positions:

New Jersey Counts Project Director: The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice seeks a part-time NJ Counts Project Director. The NJ Counts Project Director will help lead planning efforts as the state prepares for the 2020 Census and coordinate a broad and diverse statewide network of community-based organizations, civic leaders, faith leaders, educators, elected officials, business leaders, and other key stakeholders who are committed to ensuring an accurate and representative census count.

For more information on the position, including how to apply, please click here

Research and Policy Advocate: The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice seeks a Research and Policy Advocate. The Research and Policy Advocate will conduct research and policy analysis on issues of civic engagement in New Jersey and will help develop and conduct advocacy and public education strategies to advance the Institute’s mission to make the promise of democracy real for people of color in New Jersey.

For more information on the position, including how to apply, please click here

Program Assistant: The Institute is seeking to hire a Program Assistant who can provide administrative and logistical support to the legal team, while working collaboratively with the entire staff to provide support as needed.

For more information on the position, including how to apply, please click here

Institute Releases New Brochure

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The Institute has released a new brochure highlighting our work to advance social justice in New Jersey. Please click here for a PDF version. 

Andrea McChristian reflects on the 51st Anniversary of the Newark Rebellion

Institute Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian writes for the Star Ledger:

Fifty-one years ago today, the Newark Rebellion was sparked by police abuse of a black cab driver. At that time, the police force was overwhelmingly white in a city with a substantial black population. Newark residents took to the streets to protest law enforcement abuse and the oppressive conditions under which they had been forced to live. 

Fifty-one years later, and on the second anniversary of the Newark Police Division Consent Decree, this story of policing is part of a broader national conversation. 

Ron Pierce: To Vote Has Value to the Soul

Former Institute intern Ron Pierce writes for NJ Spotlight:

The last time I cast a ballot was in 1985, when Tom Kean became governor. Under New Jersey’s law that denies the right to vote to people with criminal convictions, I have been without a voice in our democracy for decades.