For first time in 70 years, 2020 Census to ask about citizenship

The Census Bureau has not asked Americans about citizenship since 1950.

By Susan McFarland
A large American flag hangs on the George Washington Bridge on President's Day in New York City on February 19. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
A large American flag hangs on the George Washington Bridge on President's Day in New York City on February 19. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

March 27 (UPI) -- A question about citizenship will be added to the 2020 Census, the U.S. Commerce Department said -- a controversial tactic to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

In December, the Justice Department asked the Census Bureau to reinstate the question on the census, which has not appeared since 1950.


At the start of every decade, the bureau counts the total number of people in the United States -- not the total number of citizens -- to determine each state's congressional influence and other relevant matters.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday collecting citizenship data has been "a long-standing historical practice."

"For the approximately 90 percent of the population who are citizens, this question is no additional imposition," Ross wrote in a memo explaining the change. "And for the approximately 70 percent of non-citizens who already answer this question accurately on the [American Community Survey], the question is no additional imposition."

"[Census] data are 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," he added. "These are foundational elements of our democracy, and it is therefore incumbent upon the department and the Census Bureau to make every effort to provide a complete and accurate decennial census."


Democrats argue that adding the question will lead to an inaccurate population count because it will discourage some immigrants from filling out the questionnaire.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the move comes as no surprise and goes "all the way up to President Trump, casting doubt on the Justice Department's stated reasons for proposing this untested question at the 11th hour."

"The president's support for this unnecessary, untested question is just one more example of this administration's hostility toward immigrants and people of color," Gupta said. "Adding a new, untested question at this late hour will devastate the likelihood of a fair and accurate census. We urge the secretary to stand firm against pressure from the president's re-election campaign to disrupt and politicize the census."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against the decision to add the question back into the census, and said via Twitter that "California simply has too much to lose for us to allow his Administration to botch this obligation!"

The last census in 2010 put the U.S. population at nearly 309 million.


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