The 2020 Census and the immigration debate
Every 10 years, the U.S. Census aims to count every resident in the nation. A complete and accurate count, which will be completed this year by Sept. 30, is important to each state because the data collected (1) determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and (2) is used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to states and local communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, funding distributed based on census results impacts food assistance, Head Start, child care, housing support, public schools (including Title I grants, national school lunch and breakfast programs, and career and technical education grants), early intervention services for children with special needs and children’s health insurance.

The California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1666 in 2019, requiring the California Complete Count – Census 2020 office to partner with local educational agencies to make information about the 2020 U.S. Census available to students and parents. Accurately counting families with young children has presented challenges for the Census Bureau over the years, and with shelter-in-place orders and other COVID-19-related challenges in 2020, states have had to get more creative to make sure everyone gets counted. Even ”Sesame Street” is trying to get the word out.

California in danger of undercount

As of Aug. 2, California’s Census self-response rate was 64.2 percent. The California Census Challenge is a competition for the 482 incorporated cities and 58 counties in the state to achieve the highest response rate. To ensure the competition is fair, cities and counties will compete against other cities and counties with similar population sizes. The top three cities and counties from each tier, including their hardest-to-count tracts, will receive a plaque honoring their hard work from the California Census Office. For more information, visit

Census lawsuits
In addition to the difficulties in census counting created by the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous legal challenges have been filed over the past two years surrounding the census and the U.S. immigration debate. Because of the importance of federal funding to states, local communities and schools, and the risk of losing congressional representation, states and localities have challenged federal decisions that may hinder an accurate and complete census count. California has struggled to fully fund its public schools, and losing additional federal funding would exacerbate an already challenging financial situation for schools. Ensuring fair Congressional representation and federal funding is crucial to all states.

On March 26, 2018, the Department of Commerce announced that the list of census questions it submits to Congress would include a question asking the citizenship status of every person in the United States. Multiple lawsuits were filed to stop the citizenship status question from being included, arguing that asking about citizenship would repress responses from non-citizens and their citizen relatives. California filed one of the lawsuits, noting that the state and its local communities would be particularly damaged by repressed responses from non-citizens and citizens alike because of California’s relatively large foreign-born and non-citizen populations. On June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the citizenship question from being included on the census.

On July 21, 2020, the Trump administration issued a memo calling to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the Census count, instructing the Commerce Secretary to include in the report the census results in a manner that would permit the President to leave out the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. from the census apportionment count. Excluding undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. from the census count would break with historical practice and longstanding precedent and could alter representation and funding for states throughout the country. Multiple states have filed lawsuits challenging the memo already. On July 28, 2020, California, along with multiple cities and the Los Angeles Unified School District, sued the Trump administration in California v. Trump, alleging that the memo issued would cause harm to California by cutting the number of representatives allotted to the House of Representatives and by decreasing federal funding to the state, its local communities and its schools. CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance is monitoring the case and the potential opportunity to provide amicus support on behalf of CSBA’s members.

Next steps for California
As the outcome of the most recent lawsuits filed remains uncertain, California and local communities continue to work to ensure every Californian is counted in the 2020 U.S. Census. For more information on completing the census in California, visit

Please note that the information provided here by CSBA is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. Please contact your legal counsel for questions related to this information.