Citizenship Status Potential 2020 Census Question

With Constitutional responsibility of the federal government to undertake the next census count in 2020, debate heats up around the issue of asking about citizenship status. After Trump Administration officials announced in March intentions to add the question, a vocal outcry from critics quickly followed.

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau, which operates under the Department of Commerce, enumerates the population as a means of determining appropriate representation and funding levels in communities across the country. With the census, the idea is to capture a snapshot of all people living in the United States as a means of gaining a range of insights into the nation’s population.

However, some observers argue the purpose behind asking about citizenship status is far from innocuous. Josephin Paul, an immigration advocate in Dalla, describes the question as “another way of terrorizing immigrants so that they live in fear of deportation, self-deport or underreport themselves.”  As census numbers impact government operations locally, Paul warns through her editorial published in The Hill that the consequences “will be felt far beyond the immigrant community.”

Census takers have asked residents about citizenship status in the past. In 1950, the question appeared on the survey that went to every household in the country. But the same question didn’t appear on the 1960 census, according to a U.S. Census historian, as innovations in sampling techniques demonstrated higher levels of accuracy through use of sample questionnaires. In other words, questionnaires sent to a smaller percentage of the population allows researchers to extrapolate information efficiently.

With the current call to reinstate a question on citizenship, critics say the move effectively discourages immigrants from responding, leading to undercounting in particular communities and causing the loss the congressional seats and federal funding in states with high immigrant populations. Officials with the Trump Administration say including a citizenship-status question provides the Department of Justice with the kind of information officials need for voter protection and to provide effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

Interestingly, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that advocates for drastic reductions in legal immigration levels, sued the federal government in 1980. The suit called for the federal government to determine the status of individual immigrants in the country through use of the Census Bureau. While the suit fizzled, government attorneys responded to FAIR by arguing “any effort to ascertain citizenship will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count.”