The new question was added by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, allegedly at the request of the Justice Department. Ross testified to Congress that the Department of Justice requested the question to more accurately enforce the Voting Right Acts by determining where minority communities are located in the country. But a recently released Justice Department memo, however, calls to question Ross' statements.
The memo shows the Justice Department only requested the question after being lobbied for months by the Commerce Department. The Commerce Department is standing by its assertions that the citizenship question is meant to produce more accurate census information. An appeals court just ordered that Justice Department officials must sit for questioning regarding several lawsuits currently being brought against the Commerce Department's new census question.
The greatest concern about the new citizenship question is that it will discourage minority communities from participating in the census at all. According to Pacific Standard Magazine, researchers believe hundreds of thousands of people—potentially as many as 1.75 million—could refuse to participate in the census or could give inaccurate information. Per NPR:
"It certainly raises the level of risk of getting a bad count or a count that doesn't that fairly represent everyone," says John Thompson, a former Census Bureau director who left the agency last year.
Some experts fear, however, that reintroducing a citizenship question to all census participants in 2020 could discourage people from participating at a time of growing distrust in sharing personal information with the government.
In a recent memo written by Census Bureau staffers, researchers said that survey takers conducting field tests last year noticed a "new phenomenon" of increased fear among immigrant participants, many of whom referenced concerns about the "Muslim ban" and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "Respondents reported being told by community leaders not to open the door without a warrant signed by a judge," the researchers wrote in the memo, adding that they saw "respondents falsifying names, dates of birth, and other information on household rosters."
Ross has maintained the question is not meant for any nefarious purposes, but is supposed to help support the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Per The Washington Post:
"My staff and I consulted with Federal governmental components and inquired whether the Department of Justice would support, and if so would request, including of a citizenship question as consistent with and useful for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act,” Ross wrote.
Many Republican lawmakers, always wary of the specter of illegal immigrant voters, say the question is needed to more accurately allocate representatives. Per USA Today:
Supporters of the decision, including Republican lawmakers, argue the question should be asked.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, chairman of the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice, praised the Trump administration for adding the question.
“I hope we continue working toward a 2020 Census that accurately represents the American people,” he said at a hearing in June.
Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., said he wants to know how many American citizens are in the country.
‘’If we don’t know how many actual citizens we have, then we don’t know where we need to divide districts," he said earlier this year. "We don’t know how many representatives each state needs. Right now, it’s based on just numbers of populations and some of those are illegal citizens."
Vanita Gupta, the former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and acting head of the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama administration, argued in The Nation that the new question was being hastily included against the wishes of census experts.
Gupta also says the new question was included at the urging of erstwhile White House counselor Steve Bannon and conservative former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Overriding the Census Bureau’s nonpartisan experts, Ross directed the bureau to include a question on citizenship status in the Census form, without any time to test its wording or potential impact on people’s willingness to complete the questionnaire. Ross claimed that including such a question is necessary to effectively enforce the Voting Rights Act. But, as one of the people responsible for voting-rights enforcement at the Justice Department during the Obama administration, I know that isn’t true. There had to be some other reason for the abrupt and unwise decision.
...The Bannon-Kobach scheme threatens to turn the Census from an essential, nonpartisan activity into a dangerous political weapon. The documents released by the DOJ also show that the Census Bureau warned Commerce Department leadership about the disastrous results: depressed response rates, increased costs, and inaccurate data that the nation would have to grapple with for the next 10 years. This misguided decision will affect everyone, with communities that are already at risk of being undercounted—including people of color, young children, and low-income rural and urban residents—suffering the most.