Citizenship question on census divisive
GOP attorneys general argue it will improve the accuracy of count; Dems say it might drive down participation
A Trump administration plan to ask people if they are U.S. citizens during the 2020 census has prompted a legal uproar from Democratic state attorneys general, who argue it could drive down participation and lead to an inaccurate count.
Yet not a single Republican attorney general has sued — not even from states with large immigrant populations that stand to lose if a census undercount of immigrants affects the allotment of U.S. House seats and federal funding for states.
In fact, many GOP attorneys general had urged Trump’s census team to add a citizenship question.
“We always are better off having a more accurate count of citizens versus non-citizens. I see no downside in this,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, vice chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association.
The diverging views of top Republican and Democratic state attorneys highlight how even the most basic data collection decisions can quickly split along partisan lines amid the intense debate about immigration policies.
Concerns among immigrants have risen as President Donald Trump’s administration has cracked down on so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, increased arrests by federal immigration officers, called the National Guard to the border with Mexico and sought to limit travel to the U.S. from certain predominantly Muslim countries.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced last month that the 2020 census distributed to every U.S. household will include a citizenship question for the first time since 1950. He said the question was needed in part to help the government enforce the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 law that was intended to protect the political representation of minority groups.
He said it will provide a more accurate tally of voting-eligible residents than is currently available from a smaller sampling survey that includes the citizenship question.
In a letter explaining his decision, Ross said the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that as many as 630,000 additional households might not respond if a citizenship question is included. Yet he acknowledged the administration did not know what the actual consequences might be because it hasn’t tested the change.
The nation’s only dress rehearsal for the 2020 census, currently taking place in Providence, Rhode Island, does not include the citizenship question on the survey forwarded to residents. Nevertheless, Ross determined the benefits of including the question outweigh any concerns.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, filed a federal lawsuit immediately after Ross announced the question would be added. The nation’s most populous state also has the highest number of foreign-born residents, most of whom are naturalized U.S. citizens or hold some other legal status.
Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman led a coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general, the District of Columbia, six cities and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors in filing a second federal lawsuit.