Trump administration adding citizenship question to 2020 census

Shalom Palmer learned about her African and European origins by using a kit from Ancestry DNA in March 2018

Shalom Palmer learned about her African and European origins by using a kit from Ancestry DNA. Credit Shalom Palmer and Ancestry DNA

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Census Bureau shared personally identifying information including the name, address, citizenship and country of origin of Japanese-Americans with the War and Justice Departments.

The multistate effort to get Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to reverse inclusion of the citizenship question is the right fight. But if states decide to go that route, they will need census data that are complete, not simply a representative sample based on a smaller survey; thus, we have the new question on the 2020 census. They believe the question would discourage census participation and increase fears by undocumented immigrants - who must also be counted - that it's a government ploy to hunt them down.

The Trump administration faced immediate backlash after officials announced Monday that the question would be added to the 2020 census.

"Having an accurate Census count should be of the utmost importance for every Californian", California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. Census privacy protections didn't hold up well for Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. In a lengthy explanation, he said there was no "definitive, empirical support" for concerns that the question would cause aliens or legal immigrants to avoid filling out the census. The Census Bureau announced the change Thursday in its report to Congress on the questions all US households will see on questionnaires used for the upcoming national headcount.

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If I get a census questionnaire that asks me such a question, I, like many others (each for our different reasons), will not answer it.

The 10-year census is "relied on for a myriad of important government decisions, including apportionment of congressional seats among states, enforcement of voting rights laws, and allocation of federal funds", Ross said in a memo. Critics charge the question is motivated by the president's desire to uproot or de-legitimize non-citizens. This will "hurt red states as much or more than blue states", says Shapiro.

"I've already had conversations with people who are already planning not to respond to the 2020 census because they are protesting this question". The long-form version provides substantial data about the living conditions, work history and education of the USA population, which are supplemented by periodic smaller surveys undertaken by the bureau to collect such information. It is a giant civic engagement project that allows people to proclaim that they are residents of this great land and, by virtue of the Constitution, which mandates it, ensures that they will be fairly represented in Congress. People tend to have a good feeling about participating in it.

"Secretary Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government objective outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts", it said. But it's disputable that the question's impact has been "well-tested" when it comes to including it on a government form aimed at counting every resident in the U.S. States, communities and businesses depend on the full census for key decisions on where to build schools, hospitals, stores and more, information only available in a comprehensive count. In 2010 respondents were asked ten questions about basic characteristics, such as age, sex, race, and homeownership status.

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