California to Sue Over Citizenship Question

Citizenship Status

The Trump administration announced on Monday, March 26, 2018 that the upcoming 2020 census will include a question about respondents' citizenship status, which is threatening to cause a lawsuit with the California state government.

“Including the question is not just a bad idea—it’s illegal,” wrote Xavier Becerra, the state's attorney general, in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed.

He argued that the move will undercut the Constitutional requirement of taking an accurate census, as illegal immigrants could be reluctant to participate if they have to admit their lack of citizenship.

One of the uses of the census is determining how many members of the House of Representatives are assigned to each state, which is based on relative population; this includes both citizens and non-citizens. As such, California stands to either gain or decrease in political prominence depending on how many illegal immigrants wind up being counted.

It should be clarified that the Trump administration is not going to stop counting illegal immigrants, but simplify ask people for their status, in order to get an accurate estimate of how many citizens and non-citizens live in the country. According to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, this was requested by the Justice Department in order to help enforce the Voting Rights Act and prevent racial discrimination when it comes to voting.

By Constitutional requirement, the census is taken at the beginning of every decade. The last time that it asked about citizenship was in 1950, when it included the question “If foreign born, is the person naturalized?” However, Trump supporters have noted that less inclusive surveys, like the American Community Survey, still use citizenship questions.

Some former directors of the Census Bureau have argued that the new rule leads to a “tremendous risk” of undercounting residents, and last year the bureau issued a report about how recent fears among the immigrant population have led to them being reluctant to participate in surveys.

“This detrimental change will inject fear and distrust into vulnerable communities, and cause traditionally undercounted communities to be even further under-represented,” according to Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

The counter-argument, of course, is that by not asking people about their citizenship, the census is deliberately avoiding an important question. Some have argued that Democratic leaders simply don't want Americans to realize how many illegal immigrants live in the country; the current estimate, about 11-12 million, is over a decade old.