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A Citizenship Question Is Back on the 2020 Census—And California Vows to Sue the Trump Administration Over It

March 27, 2018, 9:25 AM UTC

The U.S. Constitution dictates that the total population of the country be counted every ten years. And the Commerce Department has decided to add an additional layer to the upcoming 2020 Census, reinstating a question about respondents’ citizenship.

The Commerce Department announced on Monday that it had reviewed an earlier request from the Department of Justice to include the question and said that it decided to move forward with it, in part because it would help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Commerce further noted that requesting citizenship data had been commonplace in census surveys up until 1950.

Critics, meanwhile, argue that including a citizenship question could undermine the fundamental purpose of the census, by discouraging those living in the U.S. illegally from participating, and thereby preventing the government from obtaining accurate population figures. The repercussions would be felt beyond just the survey itself, as the numbers obtained are used both to draw (or redraw) congressional districts and determine the allocation of federal funds.

Woman wears Census 2010 hat
Census workers’ “March to the Mailbox” campaign aimed to boost mail back rates in hard-to-count communities.Joe Raedle Getty Images
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla have emerged as some of the Commerce Department’s biggest detractors, penning an op-ed in The San Francisco Chronicle that suggests the plan would disproportionately affect California with its large immigrant communities. Becerra announced that he would file a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its decision to include the citizenship question, calling it illegal.

At the same time, President Donald Trump’s reelection committee is using the plan as one of its primary issues ahead of the 2020 election. An email sent to supporters last week said: “The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens. In another era, this would be COMMON SENSE… but 19 attorneys general said they will fight the President if he dares to ask people if they are citizens. The President wants to know if you’re on his side.”