The 2020 census might have a new question: “Is this person a U.S. citizen?”
While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency is in charge of the Census Bureau, is eager to add the question, many other officials – and members of the public – say it’s a horrible idea.
So far, the decision to add the question to the census has caused several states and cities to file lawsuits, and even the Census Bureau’s own chief scientist advised against it, citing research that suggests asking about citizenship status could “discourage noncitizens from taking part in the census given increased concerns about immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.”
Ross testified to Congress that the Justice Department wanted the question added so it could enforce the Voting Rights Act’s provisions against racial discrimination.
However, several emails and memos that came out as part of the lawsuits directly contradict that testimony.
In an email chain between Ross and another official, Earl Comstock, Ross asked Comstock, “Where is the DOJ in their analysis? If they still have not come to a conclusion please let me know your contact person and I will call the AG.”
A memo signed by Ross says, “My staff and I thought reinstating a citizenship question could be warranted, and we had various discussions with other governmental officials about reinstating a citizenship question to the Census. As part of that deliberative process, my staff and I consulted with Federal governmental components and inquired whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) would support, and if so would request, inclusion of a citizenship question as consistent with and useful for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.”
It’s clear that Ross’s testimony was false, but the issue is still on the table. In fact, it’s likely to end up before the Supreme Court. Federal trials for lawsuits in New York will likely start in October, and lawsuits in California and Maryland, are going to begin in January.
An accurate census is incredibly important, because population counts determine how congressional seats and Electoral College votes are distributed. Further, these counts determine how approximately $800 billion each year in federal funding is divided between states.
What Do You Think?
The government hasn’t asked households about citizenship in a census since the 1950s. Do you believe we need that question on the census, or do you think, as some critics claim, that it’ll discourage people from answering the census at all and prevent the government from getting an accurate count of residents? I’d love to hear your opinion, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.