On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge George Hazel began trial on lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The census is a population count that happens every ten years. The results are used to set the number of members from each state in the House of Representatives. In addition, Census data directly affects how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation and more. The U.S. Constitution requires that every “person” be counted, regardless of the person’s status in the United States. This new census will use the internet as the primary response method along with a call-in option. It will also be the first to ask about same-sex couples. The controversy surrounding the new census is the proposal to add the “citizenship question”.
The actual question is worded as follows: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”. The 5 choices for answers are: 1) Yes, born in the United States; 2) Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. virgin Island, or Northern Marianas; 3) Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents; 4) Yes, U.S. citizens by naturalization, provide year of naturalization; and 5) No, not a U.S. citizen. The question does not ask for the status of the individual if option 5 is selected, nor does it ask the method of naturalization.
The reason this question’s inclusion in the census has been repeated challenged in court is on the grounds that it could cause many immigrants and undocumented individuals to skip the 2020 census out of fear that their information could be used against them, even though it is illegal to share a person’s census responses with law enforcement or immigration agencies. If immigrants shun the census, it could reduce the number of congressional seats and the amount of federal funding in states with large numbers of foreign-born residents, such as California, which has more than any other state. Many of these states are dominated by Democratic leaders and elected officials, who have taken the lead in pressing the issue. This proposal was blocked for the first time by a different court last week, and will most likely be decided by the Supreme Court.
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