Census 2020 Citizenship Question Update

UPDATE,  July 11, 2019:   After nearly two weeks of back and forth from the Justice Department lawyers litigating the case and the President, on whether the administration was going to stop pursuing adding the citizenship status question to Census 2020, or going to try to do an end run around the Supreme Court’s opinion blocking the question,  President Trump announced today that he will no longer fight to add the citizenship status question to the Census form.  Instead, he is instructing the government to mine all of its databases to obtain the information about who is a citizen and who isn’t.

This raises a host of issues including concerns about the rationale for this effort and its costs, privacy concerns, and concerns about accuracy.    The President mentioned scouring Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Social Security databases among others.   But inaccuracies abound in those databases.  For example, a person who immigrated as a child who became a citizen automatically when her parent naturalized would still appear in USCIS’s database as a permanent resident, not as a U.S. citizen.   A person who received a Social Security card while a refugee who has since become a permanent resident and then a citizen will still be in Social Security’s database as a refugee.

Again – query what the rationale is for this effort? Our country prides itself on the ideal of not drawing lines between classes of individuals, even if it frequently fails to meet that aspiration.   This effort feels like the beginning of an official shift to create divisions and treat people differently depending on their status.   Food for thought.

In the meantime, the fight over the citizenship question on Census 2020 reportedly has sown sufficient distrust of the census that there may be a substantial undercount even without that question appearing on the form.

The Constitution calls for all people who live in the U.S. to be counted every 10 years.  It is unfortunate that this prolonged fight may have undermined the Census bureau’s ability to fulfill that mandate in 2020.

July 3, 2019:  Just days after the Supreme Court ruled that the administration’s stated rationale for adding a citizenship status question to the 2020 decennial census strained credulity and sent the case back down to the lower court, the Justice Department informed that court during a telephonic hearing that the administration was dropping the effort to add the question.   The Secretary of Commerce, in whose department the Census Bureau resides, also issued a statement that the Census Bureau would begin printing the Census 2020 questionnaires without including the question.

The Census Bureau has stated that it needs to begin printing the forms in July to have them ready for the start of the census in 2020.

According to lawyers representing the plaintiffs, the presiding judge in the federal court case requested that the government confirm its withdrawal in writing.  The judge’s caution appears to have been warranted, because less than 24 hours later, according to news reports, President Trump contradicted the Justice Department and his Commerce Secretary, tweeting that the administration would continue its efforts to add the question to the census.

There is expert consensus that adding the citizenship question to Census 2020 would result in a significant undercount of the U.S. population, which would be damaging for all the reasons that we’ve described previously here.

Stay tuned to learn which position will prevail – the President’s or the Justice and Commerce Departments’.