Should the 2020 Census include a question asking all respondents whether or not they’re an American citizen?
The Census routinely asked all U.S. residents citizenship questions from 1890 through 1950. In 1960, the citizenship question was indirectly addressed. However, from 1970 to 2000, only a sample of the U.S. population was asked about citizenship. After 2000, this and all of the other “long form” questions were moved to the annual American Community Survey which is sent to a little under four million people in the U.S.
For the 2020 Census, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in late March that the citizenship question would be included once again in the Census, meaning that all residents of the United States would be asked about their citizenship.
The Census helps determine everything from how many representatives each state has in Congress, as required by the Constitution, to where federal funds are distributed for hospitals, schools, and more.
What the bill does
The Every Person Counts Act would prevent any question about U.S. citizenship or immigration status from being asked in the Census. This would be done by adding language explicitly stating that the Census “shall tabulate the total number of _persons _[emphasis added] in each State” but that “the Secretary may not include any question or otherwise elicit any information regarding United States citizenship or immigration status.”
The bill was introduced by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on March 20 — actually six days _before _the administration’s official announcement, in anticipation of the move which had been long speculated.
It’s labelled S. 2580 in the Senate.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the legislation would provide a more accurate count of American residents, as the Constitution requires. Although the Trump Administration has not explicitly said so, opponents fear that the real motivation behind the citizenship question may be to increase deportation of undocumented immigrants, one of Trump’s biggest issues as a candidate and president.
“The federal census is not a tool to rally the President’s base,” lead sponsor Menendez said in a press release. “It is a constitutionally mandated count of every single person living in this country — no matter where they’re from or how they got here. It’s incredible that we even have to consider legislation to prevent this administration from politicizing the census with his anti-immigrant sentiments and polluting the redistricting process to bend it towards his party.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the citizenship question is merely a way of finding out an important piece of information about American residents, just as the existing questions about such characteristics as name, sex, race, and homeownership status do. None of those longstanding questions have attracted as much controversy from the American public as this mandatory citizenship question for 2020.
“Asking the citizenship question of 100 percent of the population gives each respondent the opportunity to provide an answer. This may eliminate the need for the Census Bureau to have to impute an answer for millions of people. For the approximately 90 percent of the population who are citizens, this question is no additional imposition,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wrote in a memo announcing the decision.
“And for the approximately 70 percent of noli-citizens who already answer this question accurately on the ACS,” Ross continued, “the question is no additional imposition since Census responses by law may only be used anonymously and for statistical purposes.” The ACS is the American Community Services, a longer and more detailed annual questionnaire administered by the Census Bureau that goes out to a far smaller number of people than the Census itself.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 14 Senate cosponsors, but all Democrats. Although it awaits a possible vote in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, congressional passage is unlikely under Republican control.
What seems more likely is a federal judge or court striking down the administration’s decision as unconstitutional. A coalition of 17 states and seven major cities filed a lawsuit in early April seeking to remove the citizenship portion from the Census.
The exact wording of the Constitution states that an “actual Enumeration” of the national population should be conducted for the “whole number of persons” in the U.S. What’s at issue is whether this move will preclude an actual enumeration due to fears of immigrants, regardless of status, about sharing information with the government.