The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has joined Democrats and leftists to demand that President Donald Trump rescind his decision to resurrect a citizenship question on the census that will come on 2020. The Muslim group accused the president of reviving the question about citizenship status is part of his presumed “white supremacist agenda.” 

On Wednesday, President Trump re-election campaign proclaimed his decision. In an email to supporters, the campaign wrote: "The people spoke. President Trump has officially mandated that the 2020 United States Census ask people living in America whether or not they are citizens.” The message goes on to urge the recipients to sign a petition in support of Trump's move.

On Monday, Department of Commerce, which oversees the census, announced that a citizenship will be added to the 2020 U.S. Census questionnaire at the request of the Department of Justice in order to forestall violations of the Voting Rights Act. In a press release, CAIR charged, “President Trump has falsely claimed that millions of illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 presidential election. The citizenship question was last included in the census questionnaire in 1950.” However, various investigations in different parts of the country have revealed that non-citizens did vote in several elections. In at least one case, a legal resident who told immigration authorities that she voted illegally in an election was eventually deported in 2017.

If the U.S. Census does include a question about citizenship status, it will indeed be the first time the question will be asked of all U.S. households since 1950. However, the annual American Community Survey -- which goes out to a selected number of households annually and is managed by the Census Bureau -- does ask about citizenship. 

CAIR has claimed that there has been an unprecedented wave of bigotry directed at Muslims in the United States ever since Trump was elected. In its press release, CAIR said, “This is yet another political move by the Trump administration to implement its white supremacist agenda and to drag our nation back to the false ‘white paradise’ of the 1950s.”

The group claimed, “It is inevitable given the current environment that immigrants and their extended community networks will perceive this move as targeting them and their families for government action – including detention and deportation - thereby decreasing minority participation in the census. By discouraging minority participation, the administration clearly seeks to maintain its falling support outside of its largely monochrome base. The Trump administration’s politicization of the census could have a long term negative impact on voting rights and on the distribution of federal funding for health care, education and community development.”

It making its claims, CAIR appeared to be echoing concerns voiced by Democrats. The state of California is suing the Trump administration over the citizenship question, while New York has announced plans to join in a multi-state lawsuit against the administration. The argument being pursued by the Democrats is that states such as California, Illinois, and New York, which have high numbers of illegal aliens, may see lower counts of residents should the citizenship questions scare off respondents. They worry that census forms will not be filled out, thus making for inaccurate counts. With lower counts of residents, states could see lower federal revenue sharing, and federal congressional redistricting. 

The U.S. Census Bureau is barred from sharing individual respondents’ answers with federal agencies, including the FBI, but data about specific population groups can be shared with federal entities. Should Congress decide to only count citizens in congressional redistricting, California -- which has approximately three million illegal aliens --- could lose as many as five congressional seats. According to the Washington Post, this could mean a shift of power away from the Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions (where there are high numbers of illegal aliens and legal resident aliens) to states in the middle of the country. 

The U.S. Constitution requires an actual count of the population in the census, regardless of citizenship status, every ten years. In his lawsuit against the Trump administration, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he fears that including a citizenship question in the census questionnaire could intimidate or discourage people and result in an inaccurate census that might “translate into several million people not being counted.” Becerra’s lawsuit claims that California “has more foreign-born residents (over 10 million) and non-citizens (over 5 million) than any other state.” At stake are the Golden State’s 53 Members of Congress and 55 Electoral College votes, all of which are largely controlled by the Democratic party and are a decisive factor in presidential elections. California’s 5 million-plus non-citizens, many of whom are illegal aliens, thus have considerable influence in American politics. 

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said of the prospective change in the wording of the U.S. Census form, "This is a question that's been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed." While her statement may have been unclear as to which survey she was referring, the last time the Census Bureau asked all U.S. households a question about U.S. citizenship was in 1950. The Census Bureau asked for the birthplace of each person, and added a follow-up question: "If foreign born — Is he naturalized?" Then in 1960, there was no such question about citizenship, only about place of birth.

The Census Bureau began in 1970 to send out two questionnaires. One was a short-form questionnaire that gathered basic population information, while the other was a long form that asked detailed questions, including citizenship. This continued into 2000 when household receiving the long-form questionnaire were asked, "Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?" About 1 in 6 households received the long form. The short form asked merely for: name, relationship, age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, marital status, and whether the home is owned or rented. While the 2000 census short form asked about race, it did not ask about citizenship. The long form did ask about citizenship.

The Census added the American Community Survey, which was fully implemented in 2005. Conducted every year and sent to 3.5 million households, the survey asks many of the same questions as the census long-form surveys from 1970 to 2000, including the citizenship question. In 2010, there was no long form census questionnaire because it had been replaced by the annual American Community Survey. The decennial census form asked only 10 questions.

In a memo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross dismissed concerns about presumed low counts. "The Department of Commerce is not able to determine definitively how inclusion of a citizenship question on the decennial census will impact responsiveness. However, even if there is some impact on responses, the value of more complete and accurate data derived from surveying the entire population outweighs such concerns. Completing and returning decennial census questionnaires is required by Federal law, those responses are protected by law, and inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census will provide more complete information for those who respond." 

Eric Holder, who served as Attorney General in the Obama administration, announced this week that he is also filing a lawsuit to stop the citizenship question. He said, "We will litigate to stop the Administration from moving forward with this irresponsible decision," Holder said in a Tuesday morning statement. "The addition of a citizenship question to the census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy. This question will lower the response rate and undermine the accuracy of the count, leading to devastating, decade-long impacts on voting rights and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding. By asking this question, states will not have accurate representation and individuals in impacted communities will lose out on state and federal funding for health care, education, and infrastructure."

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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