The decision by United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census has generated an uproar across the United States.
Threats of lawsuits aside, there is also a great deal of controversy regarding the history of this question. Some claim that census takers haven’t asked people about citizenship since 1950, while others claim that the question was on census forms up until 2010.
Following is a peek into the fascinating history behind this question and what states can expect if it indeed remains on the forms.
The United States government, up until the year 1950, used a census form that asked individuals if they were born in the United States or abroad. Those who responded they had been born abroad were asked to note if they had been naturalized. In 1960, this question was removed from the census form. However, in 1970 the Census Bureau created two census forms. The short form excluded the citizenship the citizenship question along with other, detailed personal questions. The long form; however, retained the citizenship question.
While most individuals only filled out the short form, the long form was filled out by one in six households during the 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses. In 2010, then-US President Barack Obama replaced both forms with a new survey that did not ask citizenship questions.
The impact of including the citizenship question on the form could be widespread. Immigrants without proper documentation would likely be unwilling to risk taking part in the census. In fact, numerous people in this position have told journalists outright that they have absolutely no intention of partaking in a census that asks the citizenship question. Without the participation of undocumented immigrants, the population in many states would be undercounted. A state’s population not only determines how much federal funding it may receive, but also affects how many electoral votes are allocated to each state and how many representatives in Congress a state will have. Given that fact, it is not surprising that many states are desperate to ensure that each and every person is counted.
The federal government has sought to quell the uproar by pointing out that the United States Census Bureau is expressly prohibited by law from sharing information with other government departments. Even if a person were to tell a Census Bureau worker outright that he or she is in the country illegally (a scenario that is highly unlikely in the first place), that worker would not be allowed to share this information with anyone else. Furthermore, census workers are not asking those responding to a survey to provide proof of lawful residence. However, this information has done little to allay fears of the upcoming census.
At the same time, even the removal of the citizenship questions may not automatically ensure that every single person in the country is counted regardless of legal status. As the ICE has become increasingly active in arresting illegal immigrants and removing them from the country, those who do not have legal status are becoming increasingly wary, keeping doors and windows locked at all times and refusing to answer the door if they are not expecting a visitor. There is a very real chance that even the removal of the citizenship question will not affect such individuals’ participation in the upcoming census.
The 2020 Census is set to take place on April 1, 2020, and there is a very real possibility that it will include a citizenship question that was partially eliminated in 1960 and completely eliminated in 2010. Naturally, it is impossible to tell what the results of such a census would be, but one thing that can be said for certain is that not everyone will be pleased with the results.
Those who have continually complained about minorities being undercounted will most likely continue to do so. Lawmakers that have unsuccessfully tried to convince the Census Bureau to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity will remain upset over the omission. Furthermore, as House of Representative seats inevitably shift between states, those who set to lose representatives will naturally resent any state that gains them, leading to even more partisan bickering, name-calling and finger-pointing for everyone to look forward to for the foreseeable future.
~ Liberty Planet