Last month, the Department of Commerce announced that it would include a question on the 2020 Census asking whether respondents are U.S. citizens. Democrats and open-immigration advocates denounced the move, even though the question was common on Census forms for decades until 1960. Commenting on the controversy was Dan Stein, who presides over the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR): "Immigration is the single most important demographic phenomenon in America. Some 15 million new people settle legally and illegally in the United States each decade, and it is critical that our nation understand how decades of mass immigration is affecting the nation."
According to a release from FAIR, Stein went on to say, "The Census is not just a decennial headcount. It is a snapshot of the nation that affects just about every important decision policymakers at the federal, state, and local level will make over the coming decade. It is essential that we have reliable data about how many noncitizens are living in our country in order to understand their impact on the nation and our ability to effectively plan for the future."
Notably, among the aspects of American governance and everyday life that are affected by the decennial Census are the apportionment of congressional seats, as well as the allocation of trillions of dollars in federal funds. The Census can even determine the outcome of a close presidential election: This is because each state's electoral vote total is tied to the number of seats it is awarded in the House of Representatives.
"One can only surmise that the reason mass immigration advocates and the leadership of the Democratic Party object to the inclusion of a question about citizenship is because they are afraid of what the information will reveal. They want the American people kept in the dark," said Stein. "The American people need and have a right to this important information so that they, through their elected officials, can make informed decisions about the many issues affected by our nation's immigration policies, including our immigration policy itself," concluded Stein.
According to a lawsuit filed by a number of cities and states, concerns on the part of immigrant communities "have been amplified by the anti-immigrant policies, actions, and rhetoric" from Trump and his administration. The suit was filed in New York District Court by a coalition of 17 states, including New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and several cities, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. The suit argues that asking about immigration status "will jeopardize critical federal funding needed by states and localities to provide services and support for millions of residents." The lawsuit contends, "Further, it will deprive historically marginalised immigrant communities of critical public and private resources over the next 10 years."
California has filed its own suit, as did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In a letter dated March 26, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross argued that the American Community Survey, an annual survey sent out to a random sampling of about 3.5 million American households, has asked a citizenship question since 2005. "Therefore, the citizenship question has been well tested," Ross wrote.
While the Census Bureau is banned by law from sharing information it gleans from the census with any other government agency, Brian Root of Human Rights Watch expressed serious concerns. In a statement, Root said, "The government has shown over and over again that they're interested in using data mining in any way possible to identify people and carry out [immigration] enforcement actions."
Root expressed concern that states such as California, Florida and Texas (which have significant immigrant communities) may lose representation in Congress as a result of the citizenship question on the census. He admitted that this could be of political benefit to Republicans. "The distribution of political representation and appropriations for things like healthcare and housing and other types of government funding will be impacted," he said.
"There's a large likelihood that it's going to have a massive undercount and lead to inaccuracies, which will be extremely costly and will only serve to damage communities," he said.