Census citizenship question is a short-sighted attack

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting of the President's National Council of the American Worker in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday, Sept. 17 in Washington, as from left, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Small Business Administration administrator Linda McMahon and Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta listen. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting of the President's National Council of the American Worker in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday, Sept. 17 in Washington, as from left, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Small Business Administration administrator Linda McMahon and Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta listen. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Many will be surprised to hear that there hasn’t been a citizenship question on the standard United States census since 1950. I certainly was; it seems like it would be a good idea to know how many citizens reside in the United States, right? This question on its own shouldn’t be controversial, but there has been quite the outcry from Democrats, civil rights groups and immigration activists about its possible inclusion in the 2020 census. Under most administrations, this pushback would seem like an overreaction, but there are very real concerns that have been presented by the opponents of this change.

The main concern of opponents of the citizenship question revolves around the idea that undocumented immigrants would be less likely to fill out and return the census, putting the reliability and accuracy of the data collected into question. Furthermore, lower mail-in return rates cost the Census Bureau more money, as they are forced to hire more on the ground laborers to go door to door collecting census data.

Additionally, data taken from the census is used in just about every level of government. It determines the proportion of seats allocated in the House (which is decided by the number of persons, not citizens, in the state), as well as how the government determines how much federal funding each state needs. As such, it is imperative that the Census is as accurate as possible, so that federal funding and the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives can reflect the actual populations of these United States.

So, why would undocumented immigrants be hesitant to answer a citizenship question on the census? While personally identifiable census data is supposed to be protected for 72 years and thus not put them at risk for detention and deportation, there is no guarantee that this policy would not change under this administration. In fact, the Census Bureau broke the 72 year rule during World War II, where it released information to other federal agencies to assist with the internment of Japanese-Americans. With a president who started off his campaign saying that, “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” it makes sense that undocumented immigrants would be worried that their census data would be used to target them.

The Trump administration has made quite the power move by choosing to push this issue. Because opponents of the question are pushing back, they can make a claim that Democrats want illegal immigrants in the United States, as they don’t want to differentiate between citizen and non-citizen on the 2020 census. However, if the opponents dropped the issue, the administration could move forward with posing the question, hurting response rates and possibly reducing the federal funding and House of Representative allocation for districts with large undocumented populations. Quite a bold strategy, but will it pay off?

That has yet to be seen. There are currently a number of lawsuits against the federal government challenging this question. Just last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, was ordered by a judge to testify on the issue. The administration will likely move forward with having this question on the census, but we won’t know for sure until these lawsuits are resolved. Regardless, this move by the Trump administration certainly will help them maintain their base by providing them with new talking points and consequently hurting the accuracy, response rate and trust in the Census Bureau. But what agency has this administration not wanted to hurt the reputability of?


Cameron Cantelmo is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at cameron.cantelmo@uconn.edu.