The Justice Department is pushing for a question on citizenship to be added to the 2020 census, a move that observers say could depress participation by immigrants who fear that the government could use the information against them. That, in turn, could have potentially large ripple effects for everything the once-a-decade census determines — from how congressional seats are distributed around the country to where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent.
The DOJ made the request in a previously unreported letter, dated Dec. 12 and obtained by ProPublica, from DOJ official Arthur Gary to the top official at the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department. The letter argues that the DOJ needs better citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act “and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting.”
A Census Bureau spokesperson confirmed the agency received the letter and said the “request will go through the well-established process that any potential question would go through.” The DOJ declined to comment and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
“People are not going to come out to be counted because they’re going to be fearful the information would be used for negative purposes,” said Steve Jost, a former top bureau official during the 2010 census. “This line about enforcing voting rights is a new and scary twist.” He noted that since the first census in 1790, the goal has been to count everyone in the country, not just citizens.
We must count every single US resident in the next census and EVERY census. Adding a citizenship question likely reduces response and puts an accurate count out of reach. #CountEveryone https://t.co/WsqYe7exoT
— Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (@RepRoybalAllard) December 30, 2017
The Census mandated by the Constitution counts the total number of people residing in the United States, not citizens. Questions that create incentives not to respond would damage one of the nation’s most important capacities: our ability to know ourselves https://t.co/ORA2soOgPF
— Sunlight Foundation (@SunFoundation) December 30, 2017