Citizenship question on the 2020 Census

Being an old Census geek – I was an enumerator, going door to door in 1990 – I was rather appalled when the U.S. Census Bureau delivered its planned questions for the 2020 Census to Congress, which include age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, relationship, homeownership status, and citizenship status.

Ron Jarmin, who is “performing the non-exclusive functions and duties of the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau” said, correctly: “The goal of the census is to count every person living in the United States once, only once and in the right place… The census asks just a few questions and takes about 10 minutes to respond.

“For the first time, you can choose to respond online, by phone or by mail.” They REALLY want you to answer it online because it’s cheaper for them, which means it’s cheaper for American taxpayers.

“The 2020 Census is easy, safe and important.” It will be incredibly easy. It is incredibly important too. “Data from the census and American Community Survey directly affect how more than $675 billion per year in federal and state funding are allocated to local, state and tribal governments. The data are also vital to other planning decisions, such as emergency preparedness and disaster recovery.”

But is the 2020 Census safe?

Stealing from Bob Scardamalia, former chief demographer for New York State:

“To many, using the Census to ask every individual in the country whether or not they are a citizen probably seems like a sensible thing to do. After all, isn’t the Census used to determine political representation and shouldn’t representation be based on citizens? Well, NO!

“Since we’re so concerned about Constitutional language these days, the Constitution says nothing about representation applying only to citizens. The Census Bureau is to count EVERYONE resident in the country at Census time regardless of legal status or citizenship… I’ve spent most of my professional life working with the Census Bureau and on Census issues and this proposal is dead wrong.

“Let’s be clear. We do already learn about citizenship through surveys and it is true that many previous censuses” – e,g., the long form from 1970 through 2000 – “have had questions on citizenship and various forms of identification of foreign-born population and naturalization. In the 2010 Census, that disappeared from the every 10 year Census because citizenship was captured in the American Community Survey starting in 2005.”

The ACS is an annual survey that provides key socioeconomic and housing statistics about the nation’s rapidly changing population every year. The old Census long form, and the current ACS, ask of a sample of residents, at numbers large enough to be statistically valid.

“The administration’s proposal is ostensibly to get more accurate data but this proposal does the exact opposite. It will heighten the fear among immigrants and non-citizens that has been growing and will keep them from responding to the Census – which they, and all of us, are legally required to do. The Secretary [of Commerce Wilbur Ross] indicated that it’s better to have the data on citizenship and risk people not complying with this legal requirement. Did he just say, violate the law? Did he just tell people to not respond?

“Another point to be clear about. The Secretary’s expressed reason for pushing this forward is for the enforcement goals of the Department of Justice. The Census data – your response – is confidential, period. The President can not get access to your responses. Census employees are subject to imprisonment and fines (up to $250,000) for disclosing your data.

“The data that DOJ wants is for non-citizens residing in each and every one of 11 million census blocks and with that data, they can find individuals who are non-citizens. That, my friends, is illegal. That is what enforcement means and this proposal should not stand in the courts.”

As the Times Union (Albany, NY) noted:

“Experts say that many [immigrants], regardless of whether they are in this country legally, may not respond to the census out of fear. That could lead to significant undercounting, particularly in states with large immigrant populations…

“That, in turn, could diminish those states’ seats in the House of Representatives, whose 435 districts are drawn on the basis of the census, and in the Electoral College, which is based on Congressional representation…

“On a practical level, this is about money: States and localities with undercounts could find themselves shortchanged on federal aid, forcing them to cut programs or raise taxes.

“But the long-term damage would be to democracy itself…. it’s about rigging elections. It should be of grave concern to anyone who understands the implications of one party being able to game the political system to amass for itself more power.”

At least five former directors of the Census Bureau, who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, have written a letter opposing the citizenship question in the 2020 Census. 12 states or more are moving to sue the regime over its plans.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

One thought on “Citizenship question on the 2020 Census”

  1. This seems to be a uniquely American problem. I think part of that must be because of the huge level of distrust that Americans have for their own government, and in this case at least some of it may be justified.

    It’s hard to cut through the hype from both sides, but I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the current regime hopes to achieve two very different goals by including a citizenship question. First, it could help them determine what regions need more ICE agents deployed. But surely they can work that out using other means.

    On the other hand, as you pointed out, the boundaries of Congressional Districts are determined by the usual population, without regard to citizenship or even legal immigrant status. I think it’s plausible that the current regime has realised that by discouraging “certain” people from participating, they’ll undercount people in those areas, and the largest concentrations would be in urban areas in Democratic and Democratic-leaning regions. So, by undercounting those areas they could—theoretically—weaken Democrats by reducing their representation in Congress and state legislatures.

    But that has to be one helluva a political Hail Mary pass, because they’d have to have massive non-compliance resulting in a huge undercount to affect the shape of representation enough to matter. That could be an argument against the idea, except for two things. The current regime has been making a big show out of very aggressive, belligerent operations by ICE agents, so that could very easily frighten a LOT of people from participating and revealing their status on the Census. Second, with so many Republican gerrymandered districts, it may not take a massive undercount to tighten Republican control of state legislatures and the US House.

    I guess this is just one more thing that will hinge on who controls Congress after the midterm elections. Add it to the list!

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