New Census Citizenship Question Sparks Controversy

A recent decision has been made by the Department of Commerce to add the question of U.S. citizenship to the 2020 census. Why is this addition so controversial? Here is some quick background on the purpose of the census:

  • It occurs every ten years to collect information on the population of America.
  • It is used to accurately proportion congressional districts.
  • It distributes federal funding between states.
  • It also determines the number of seats each state holds in the House of Representatives

There are other things the census questions, but for this article, the points listed above are the most relevant.

With the question of citizenship being asked on the 2020 census, people are worried that the responses and numbers will not be accurate. Immigrants will fear the repercussions of submitting a census with the response of being a non-citizen, the numbers of censuses will dwindle.

States with high numbers of immigration, such as Texas, California, Florida and many others, are afraid of being affected by this addition. With an inaccurate report of the population, these states could potentially lose a House seat and federal funding.

California Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D) tweeted "Trump is worried about losing power so he's trying to take ours away," as a response.

The inaccurate census responses could also potentially prompt redistricting with Republicans in favor. To dive a little deeper, the Democratic population tends to center around more urban cityscapes, where immigrants tend to settle as well. Without immigrant information on the census, the political power will be shifted more towards rural communities and give Republicans the upper hand in the shaping of the electoral boundaries.

With all this talk about the change in the census, some have argued this is no big deal. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims that "This is a question that's been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed." However, many disagree with this statement. Sanders’ statement is inaccurate and incomplete. The last time the census held the citizenship was during 1950, according to NPR, the form asked where the person was born and "If foreign-born — Is he naturalized?".  The following census, which occurred in 1960 had removed the citizenship questions and merely asked where the person was born. During the 1970 census, two forms were sent out, one being longer than the other. The longer one did include questions of citizenship, but these forms were less frequent than the shorter forms.

Courtesy: NPR

However, Margo J. Anderson, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee brings up an interesting point. Anderson claims that it is not surprising to see the census change as years progress and trends come and go.  "In 1960, we had essentially had very low levels of immigration for 30-35 years. . . There weren't very many new immigrants coming. When you started collecting the data, there wasn't much to find out. We passed major new immigration legislation in 1965, and so the question became relevant again,” Anderson explains. This is why the question of citizenship appeared on the long form censuses in 1970. Perhaps the 2020 census is just another example of what happened during the one that occurred in 1970.

According to CNN, nothing is set in stone. California filed a lawsuit to challenge the addition to the next census. CNN states that “Former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder also blasted the move and said his organization, which focuses on voting enfranchisement and redistricting, would also pursue litigation against what he called an ‘irresponsible decision.’”

I would suggest looking more into this subject because I merely scraped the surface. If you wish to dive deeper into how influential this census could be, here are a couple of links that further explain the importance of this decision:


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