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H.R. 3600 (115th): Census Accuracy Act of 2017

The 2020 Census could mark the first time the survey asks whether a respondent is in this country legally or not. But could that produce negative effects even for citizens?

What the bill does

The Census Accuracy Act would mandate the 2020 Census includes a checkbox for respondents to answer from one of four options: citizen, permanent resident, has been granted legal status, or none of the above.

The Census's goal has always been to count every person living in the United States at the time, regardless of their legal status. But a respondent's legal status has never specifically been asked on the form before.

Numbered H.R. 3600, the bill was introduced in July by Rep. Steve King (R-IA4).

What supporters say

Rep. Steve King (R-IA4), lead House sponsor of the Census Accuracy Act

Supporters argue the bill will help gain a more accurate count of the number of undocumented immigrants in the America.

"For the last 15 years, I have heard the same figure advanced by Amnesty proponents regarding the number of illegal aliens in the country. In fact, I believe the number of illegal aliens in the country is far higher than many suppose," King said in a press release. "The Census should be better equipped to measure this number so that policy makers can take appropriate actions to reduce the deleterious impact illegal immigration has on our nation."

What opponents say

Critics worry including the question could plummet Census participation among the undocumented, for fear of deportation or government targeting.

"[The Constitution] requires a count of all persons residing in the United States, not just citizens or legal residents," Andrew Reamer and Audrey Singer wrote for the Brookings Institution. "The framers intended the census to be an inclusive count and so avoided the term 'citizen' used elsewhere throughout the Constitution."

That in turn could produce second-order effects, such as decreased congressional representation in states with higher numbers of undocumented immigrants --- even though the Constitution requires that non-citizen residents count toward congressional apportionment. That's mostly blue states such as California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, although it includes swing states like Florida and even red states like Texas.

Where does Trump stand?

President Trump has not yet weighed in publicly on the legislation, but it seems in keeping with some his administration's other immigration policies. If he came out in support, it could certainly build momentum for the bill.

Trump has an ally in the bill's lead sponsor, King. When Trump floated ending the longstanding practice of birthright citizenship on the campaign trail last year, King introduced the bill to make it happen in Congress. (The legislation never received a vote, and Trump does not appear to have mentioned the idea again since taking office.)

Odds of passage

Proposals to ask new Census questions, especially on a controversial topic, have already been overturned earlier this year. The Census Bureau announced in March they were considering asking respondents their sexual orientation in 2020, a plan they quickly overturned after public outcry.

The bill has not yet attracted any cosponsors. It awaits a vote in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Last updated Oct 18, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 28, 2017.


Census Accuracy Act of 2017

This bill requires any questionnaire used in the decennial census to determine the total population by states to include: (1) a checkbox or other similar option for a respondent to indicate whether he or she is a U.S. citizen or U.S. national, is lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States, is an alien who otherwise has lawful status under the immigration laws, or is none of these; and (2) a question regarding which federal program or legal provision accorded the respondent such status.

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