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California Urges Resistance To Census Citizenship Question

The California State Capitol in the early evening in Sacramento, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016.
Associated Press
The California State Capitol in the early evening in Sacramento, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016.

California's top elections official urged residents Tuesday to formally oppose a Trump administration plan that would ask whether a person is a U.S. citizen on the 2020 census.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and advocacy groups for immigrant, Muslim and other communities warn a citizenship question will discourage immigrants from participating, giving California an under-count in the decennial recording of each state's population. The numbers determine each state's representation in Congress and federal funding.

Padilla called the administration's proposed citizenship question a "blatant effort to intimidate non-citizens from participating in the census."


He's launched a website where Californians can submit public comments on the question directly to the federal registrar, which is taking feedback on the census questions through Aug. 7.

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The Trump administration announced in March it would include a citizenship question on the 2020 count, saying the U.S. Justice Department requested it to help with enforcement of voting rights laws. But documents just released through a lawsuit show U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had requested the question months earlier.

All households were last asked about citizenship in the 1950 census. A citizenship question is included in the American Community Survey, a yearly sample by the U.S. Census Bureau of about 3.5 million households.

California is one of nearly two dozen states suing the administration over the question, and Democrats in Congress want Ross to offer public testimony clarifying how the question came about.


Karin MacDonald, a census expert at the University of California-Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies, said she hasn't witnessed a similar effort by the state to urge citizens to oppose a census question in her roughly 25 years following the survey.

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But, she said, it's abnormal for the census to include a question opposed by its own Census Scientific Advisory Committee.

"It's completely against what the census has said will work, it's not tested, it's very problematic for states like California," said MacDonald, who runs IGS's Statewide Database.

The proposed citizenship question asks: "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" It then provides five answer options; one is 'no' while the other four are 'yes.' The four 'yes' answers ask whether the person was born in the United States, a territory, abroad to a U.S. citizen or naturalized.