Census 2020: The Citizenship Question

LATEST NEWS

Latest Update on the Citizenship Question: 

Two weeks after the Supreme Court barred the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, President Trump officially abandoned efforts to include the controversial question. However, the Trump Administration’s fight to obtain citizenship data from U.S residents is far from over. Trump’s new strategy involves an executive order that requires all U.S government agencies to provide existing federal records in order to compile citizenship data. 

Policy issues such as healthcare and education were used as major justifications for this executive order. However, Trump’s acknowledgement that, “This information is also relevant to administering our elections..Some states may want to draw state and local legislative districts, based upon the voter eligible population”, sparks outrage as critics claim this is the order’s true motive. 

If carried out, Trump’s executive order would have devastating effects on our democracy. District maps that exclude undocummented immigrants would result in an electorate that does not accurately reflect the nation’s diversity, and ultimately favors the Republican Party. Read more about the consequences here.

Background on the Citizenship Question: 

In February 2018, the Trump Administration declared that the upcoming 2020 Census would include a question about whether each member of the household was a U.S citizen. The Department of Commerce, which administers the Census, justified the addition of the question by stating that the Department of Justice required more citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act. 

Only hours after the announcement was made, a coalition of states, cities, and mayors filed six separate lawsuits against the Trump Administration to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The first trial took place in the U.S District Court’s Southern District of New York, where the court ruled in January of 2019 in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the Department of Commerce to remove the question. In April of 2019, the federal government appealed that decision, sending it to the Supreme Court. 

The addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census stirred major concerns since it was added by the Commerce Department. Some sources around the White House revealed information fueling speculation that the Trump Administration’s inclusion of the citizenship question was a strategic attempt to reduce representation and services to immigrants and communities of color, and in particular, to reduce the impact of Latino votes. Further, the White House stonewalled congressional attempts to uncover the sources pushing for the inclusion of the question.

On June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled to send the citizenship question lawsuit back to a lower court, temporarily barring the questions inclusion in Census 2020. Chief Justice John Roberts ruled in agreement with the court’s four liberal justices that the Trump Administration’s justification to include the citizenship question was just a pretext. Roberts wrote that the Secretary of Commerce “was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process.” 

The Supreme Court’s ruling would allow the Trump administration to attempt to add the citizenship question again.

Then, on July 2, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the Census forms would be printed without the question; there has been a July 1 deadline to begin putting Census information into production. However, on July 3 Donald Trump tweeted that the question would be included and has demanded that the Department of Justice find a way to include the question, and has also said he is considering an Executive Order.

Do people have to participate in the Census? Do people have to answer every question? 

It is a federal crime to fail to respond to the Census; every person who lives in the U.S. is required by the Constitution to participate in the Census and answer every part of the questionnaire. However, every decade millions of people fail to participate in the Census or do not answer every question, and are not prosecuted. Even so, it is vital that every person participates in Census 2020 as an undercount would lead to devastating long term consequences. 

Can someone skip the citizenship question on the Census? What happens if they do? 

A person could skip the citizenship question when filling out the Census questionnaire on paper, over the phone, online, or with an enumerator. In past Census initiatives, it was unlikely that an enumerator would be sent to an individuals home to ask for an answer if a single Census question is skipped. More than likely, an enumerator would come to an individual's home to follow up if many questions have been skipped; enumerators may visit a residence up to six times. 

What happens if someone falsely answers the citizenship question? 

Although enforcement is close to nonexistent, providing false answers on the Census is a crime and respondents should not lie on the Census. The likelihood of criminal or immigration-related consequences is slim due to data confidentiality protections.