Trump Administration Moves to Include Citizenship Question on Next Census


Attorneys general of several states pledged to sue the Trump administration over a decision to include a question about citizenship on the forthcoming 2020 census.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra already filed suit to prevent the question from being included, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he would lead an effort on behalf of several states to keep the question off of the form.

“Having an accurate Census count should be of the utmost importance for every Californian,” Becerra said. “The Census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade. California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump administration to botch this important decennial obligation.”

“This move directly targets states like New York that have large, thriving immigrant populations — threatening billions of dollars in federal funding for New York as well as fair representation in Congress and the electoral college,” said Schneiderman.

In a memo sent yesterday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross directed Karen Dunn Kelly, the under secretary for economic affairs, to include the question in the upcoming questionnaire. Ross cited potential depressed response rates as reasons to include the question.

“I have carefully considered the argument that the reinstatement of the citizenship question on the decennial census would depress response rate [sic],” Ross wrote.

“Because a lower response rate would lead to increased non-response follow-up costs and less accurate responses, this factor was an important consideration in the decision-making process. I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” he wrote.

Officials in blue states believe the inclusion of the question will have a chilling effect on the answering of the census, especially by undocumented immigrants, resulting in populations in those states being significantly undercounted. That under-counting could result in considerably less federal funding for an array of social programs like education, healthcare and financial assistance.

The Department of Justice had asked the Commerce Department to reinsert the question into the 2020 census last month. The question has not been an official part of the census since 1950. Nineteen attorneys general plus Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper wrote to Ross requesting that the question be omitted.

“The states would be profoundly harmed by an inaccurate 2020 Census, since it could result in an incorrect calculation of the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled, in violation of the Census Clause of the Constitution, and jeopardize critical federal funding that states depend on,” they wrote.

States whose officials signed on to the letter at that time included New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi and New Jersey. The Commerce Department oversees the U.S. Census Bureau.

The White House defended the decision to include the question, however. “We’ve contained this question that provides data that is necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters and specifically help us better comply with the Voting Rights Act,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today.

But Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill are concerned. House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) called on Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to call a hearing on the issue.

“The Oversight Committee has jurisdiction over the Census, and I call on Chairman Gowdy to hold hearings as soon as possible on this issue, as well as other troubling examples of politicization at the Census Bureau under President Trump,” Cummings wrote in a statement today.

Gowdy in expecting unease surrounding the issue, requested a briefing last week his office said. “In anticipation of the Census Bureau submitting their questions to Congress by the end of this month, Chairman Gowdy requested a Member briefing from the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau last week. The briefing will be open to all Oversight Committee Members,” spokesperson Amanda Gonzalez said.

Join the discussion