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2020 Census Will Ask About Respondents' Citizenship Status

Newly naturalized U.S citizens complete voter registration forms in Bethel Park, Pa., in November 2017. The 2020 census will ask respondents whether they are citizens.
Keith Srakocic AP
Newly naturalized U.S citizens complete voter registration forms in Bethel Park, Pa., in November 2017. The 2020 census will ask respondents whether they are citizens.

2020 Census Will Ask About Respondents' Citizenship Status
2020 Census Will Ask About Respondents' Citizenship Status GUEST: Steve Murdock, former director, U.S. Census Bureau

>>> I am Maureen Cavanaugh, it is Tuesday, March 27. Our top story on Mid-Day, a national census every 10 years as required by the constitution. The wording on the census form it up to the current political administration. The Trump administration decided it would reinstate a question asking individuals that they are American citizens. That has prompted a wave of criticism and a lawsuit from California Attorney General Javier per Sarah. Becerra announced that lawsuit this morning alongside Secretary of State Alex Padilla. City and presidents both Republican and Democrat census corrected by both Republican and Democratic administrations have a great effective question on the census has the effect of a incurred -- discouraging or intimidating non-Citizens. >>> It is to help the government determine if there is widespread voter fraud. Joining me is a sociology professor at University in Texas. And Professor Murdoch welcome to the program . >> thank you. >>> Remind us, what census data gets used for. What is at stake? >> Lots of things. The main one is it is used for proportionate in deciding how many members of house there are going to be for each date. It is a very important thing in terms of our democratic system. It is the bulwark of that system and critical of deciding representation. >>> Since this is also used for a wide range of things like trying to figure out scientific data about the population, I know we use it a great deal when trying to determine the relative amount of population in one area as opposed to another. It really does get wide usage. >> Absolutely. Its use is not only for that purpose which we are addressing today in large part that is determining how many representatives each state will have. But every major company and many smaller companies use it to decide where to put offices, how many routes to create for something that might be delivered in an area, it is not just for our redistricting for the states. Areas use it to determine how many representatives there should be not just in the governmental sense but on school boards and where the areas will be for the blurred -- board members or city councils were counsel boundaries will be. Almost every representative thing we do related to population, it is the census data that are if they are not our final stopping point, they are ours darting point. >>> For the criticism and Californias lawsuit against them including the question of citizenship is that it will stop noncitizens from dissipating. As a former census director what is your opinion? >> It is a concern for me. I cannot say I have in front of me a set of data that says if it affects one way or another. Certainly, with the amount of press that we have about issues of undocumented citizens, the comments we have had recently by newly elected people about this issue, it is a concern. Anyone who has done the census Pearl job or other jobs related to the allocation of what many of us would say is a major resource that you have is a major citizen and that right to vote and where, this is an issue that has social/political/other kinds of implications. >>> There are other surveys the Census Bureau puts out that does ask the question about citizenship is that suggest that the question would not have a major impact? >> I don't think so. Those are generally sample surveys. You do not have -- you are not asking the question of every single person. Only the census and anything almost done anywhere asks data from every single household. It is the most comprehensive data that we have on any topic that is included on the census form. >>> Hearing the suggestion by Wilbur Ross that he would like the citizenship question included, does that concern you ? >> I think he is sincere in terms of trying to meet a lot of different requirements and demands on both sides of the issue. I think it is a difficult one for him and certainly would guess for the census. It really gets down to whether or not you believe that question is worth the risk in terms of accuracy. If a large number of persons that are in document decide not to respond, in your state, there could be a problem with things that are not documented. It could made it less accurate census, and it means in turn that if you get a bad count, it is not only a bad count for redistricting, but it is a bad count for every use that it is made for the census and there are literally hundreds or thousands of uses for the Census. >>> I've been speaking with Steve Murdoch. Thank you very much. >> Thank you.

Updated 2:30 a.m. ET Tuesday

The U.S. Commerce Department announced late Monday that it will restore a question about citizenship to the 2020 census questionnaire.


In an eight-page memo Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the Justice Department has requested that the census ask who is a citizen in order to help determine possible violations of the Voting Rights Act, to help enforce that law.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reported on All Things Considered why the move is so controversial.

"A lot of census watchers, former census bureau directors, other census experts have said that they are very, very concerned that there already is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, that already folks are very concerned about giving personal information to the federal government, that now if there is a citizenship question added as the Commerce Department is announcing that ... a lot of immigrants, not only those who are undocumented, but anyone who maybe has ties to folks who are undocumented, may not want to ... participate in the census and therefore they would not be counted, and that has direct impacts on how people are represented in this country."All census numbers are used to reapportion seats in Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, and also these numbers have an impact on how billions of dollars are distributed around the country ... from the federal level all the way down to the local level of how school districts figure out how to divide up resources. So this could have a really big impact if immigrants are not participating in the census in 2020."

The last time a question about citizenship was included in the census questionnaire was 1950. Such a question is posed in the annual American Community Survey which covers about 3.5 million people.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that the state will sue the Trump administration over its decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

"Having an accurate census count should be of the utmost importance for every Californian. 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. What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count."

And, Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York issued a statement: "I am deeply disappointed with Secretary Ross, and I will now look to introduce legislation to stop this question from being included on the census."


As Hansi reported in January, civil rights groups dispute the Justice Department's need for the data from a citizenship question to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

In his memo, Ross rejected arguments that asking about citizenship will dampen the likelihood that undocumented residents will choose not to be counted for fear that their personal information could be used for law enforcement purposes.

"The reinstatement of a citizenship question will not decrease the response rate of residents who already decided not to respond. And no one provided evidence that there are residents who would respond accurately to a decennial census that did not contain a citizenship question but would not respond if it did (although many believed that such residents had to exist). While it is possible this belief is true, there is no information available to determine the number of people who would in fact not respond due to a citizenship question being added, and no one has identified any mechanism for making such a determination."

He concluded saying that in order to minimize an impact on census response rates, "I am directing the Census Bureau to place the citizenship question last on the decennial census form."

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