America’s census looks out of date in the age of big data

Similar issues with the Canadian census, no doubt, and the debate over StatsCan accessing bank financial data is an illustration of the potential and the privacy and political roadblocks (globalnews.ca › news › statistics-canada-pause-plan-obtain-banking-re…Statistics Canada hits pause on plan to obtain banking …):

A DOG-SLED or a snowmobile is the surest way to reach Toksook Bay in rural Alaska, where Steven Dillingham, the director of America’s census bureau, will arrive to count the first people in the country’s decennial population survey on January 21st. The task should not take long—there were only 590 villagers at the last count, in 2010—but it marks the beginning of a colossal undertaking. Everyone living in America will be asked about their age, sex, ethnicity and residence over the coming months (and some will be asked much more besides).

This census has already proved unusually incendiary. An attempt by President Donald Trump to include a question on citizenship, which might have discouraged undocumented immigrants from responding, was thwarted by the Supreme Court. His administration has also been accused in two lawsuits of underfunding the census, thus increasing the likelihood that minorities and vulnerable people, such as the homeless, will be miscounted.

ICYMI USA: Not on form, but brawl over citizenship question continues

We shall see the net result of these efforts on census participation once the Census is complete and analysed:

The U.S. Supreme Court decided a citizenship question won’t be on this spring’s census form, but that doesn’t mean the fight over it has ended in courtrooms across the country.

In Maryland, civil rights groups are trying to block an order from President Donald Trump to gather citizenship data through administrative records. In New York, other civil rights groups are seeking sanctions against Trump administration attorneys for not turning over documents related to the citizenship question’s origins. Democratic lawmakers in the District of Columbia are fighting for similar documents, and Alabama officials are suing the Census Bureau to keep immigrants living in the country illegally from being counted during the process that determines the number of congressional seats each state gets.

All of the lawsuits touch on whether the number of citizens, instead of the total population, will be used for redistricting or apportionment — the process of divvying up congressional seats among the states after the 2020 census. Opponents say doing so would dilute the influence of minorities and Democrats, which they argue was the true intent of the Trump administration’s desire to add a citizenship question in the first place.

The U.S. Constitution specifies that congressional districts should be based on how many people — not citizens — live there. But the legal requirements are murkier for state legislative districts.

Source: Not on form, but brawl over citizenship question continues

Homeland Security to share citizenship data with Census Bureau

Not surprising and there will certainly be some data issues as flagged, one’s that the administration will of course dismiss given the intent is more to disenfranchise minority voters and reduce the population count of states with higher numbers of immigrants (legal and other):

The Department of Homeland Security is agreeing to share citizenship information with the U.S. Census Bureau as part of President Donald Trump’s order to collect data on who is a citizen following the Supreme Court’s rejection of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form.

Trump’s order is being challenged in federal court, but meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security two weeks ago announced the agreement in a report. It said the agency would share administrative records to help the Census Bureau determine the number of citizens and non-citizens in the U.S., as well as the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Information to be shared includes personally identifiable data, the Homeland Security document says. Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from releasing personally identifiable data, and the bureau says in its fact-sheet on privacy, “Your answers can only be used to produce statistics — they cannot be used against you in any way.”

The Census Bureau has promised the data will be kept for no more than two years, and will then be destroyed, according to the agreement. The data will be used to help the Census Bureau create a model estimating the likelihood that each person in the U.S. is a citizen, non-citizen or an immigrant in the country without legal permission.

Among the information Homeland Security will provide is a person’s alien identification number, country of birth and date of naturalization or naturalization application. The department is awaiting word on whether it will be allowed to release information on asylum and refugee applicants, which typically is prohibited from being disclosed.

Because a person’s citizenship status can change often over time, the citizenship data provided by Homeland Security will likely be inaccurate, said Andrea Senteno, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the civil rights groups challenging Trump’s order in federal court in Maryland.

“The information out there over whether someone is a non-citizen or what type of immigrant status they may be is going to have a lot of holes in it,” Senteno said.

The Homeland Security document acknowledges risks that the Census Bureau will assign an inaccurate immigration status to someone, that people won’t be able to correct mistakes about themselves and that Homeland Security information will be linked inaccurately to data from other sources used by the Census Bureau.

“Linking records between datasets is not likely to be 100% accurate,” the Homeland Security document notes.

Trump ordered the Census Bureau to collect citizenship information through administrative records from federal agencies and the 50 states after the Supreme Court ruled against his administration last summer by deciding that a citizenship question wouldn’t be allowed on this spring’s 2020 Census questionnaire.

The administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s current justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

Opponents of the citizenship question had argued it would scare off immigrants, Hispanics and others from participating in the once-a-decade headcount. The 2020 Census will help determine how many congressional seats each state gets as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funds.

The federal lawsuit challenging Trump’s order to collect the citizenship data claims that the data gathering is motivated by “a racially discriminatory scheme” to reduce the political power of Latinos and increase the representation of non-Latino whites.

As part of the order, the U.S. Census Bureau has asked state drivers’ license bureaus for records, but so far only Nebraska has agreed to cooperate.

Gathering the citizenship data would give the states the option to design state and legislative districts using voter-age citizen numbers instead of the total population, Trump said in the order. The U.S. Constitution specifies that congressional districts should be based on how many people — not citizens — live there. But it’s murkier for many state legislative districts. Opponents fear that using just citizen figures would make legislative districts more Republican-leaning and less diverse.

“Whether that approach is permissible will be resolved when a state actually proposes a districting plan based on the voter-eligible population,” Trump’s order said. “But because eligibility to vote depends in part on citizenship, states could more effectively exercise this option with a more accurate and complete count of the citizen population.”

Source: Homeland Security to share citizenship data with Census Bureau

Census Bureau Releases Preliminary Results Of 2019 Test Of Citizenship Question

Will be interesting to see the detailed analysis and review by outside experts:

If the Trump administration had been allowed to add the now-blocked citizenship question to the 2020 census, it likely would not have had a significant effect on self-response rates, the Census Bureau said Thursday.

Preliminary analysis of a national experiment the Census Bureau conducted earlier this year with two versions of a test census form — one with a citizenship question and one without — suggests that question could lower self-response rates in some parts of the country and for some populations. In a blog postreleased Thursday, the bureau highlighted a 0.3% difference in the share of participants identifying as Hispanic.

Still, the differences overall were “small,” according to Victoria Velkoff, the bureau’s associate director for demographic programs who wrote the post.

The bureau’s early findings could temper some concerns that including the question would deter households, especially those with noncitizens, from taking part in the constitutionally mandated head count of every person living in the U.S.

The Census Bureau randomly selected approximately 480,000 households across the country, except in remote Alaska and Puerto Rico, to take part in what it has called the “2019 Census Test.” Half of those households were asked to complete test forms with the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

The bureau scrambled to put together the test earlier this year in response to the administration’s push for the question. It’s not clear when the bureau plans to release a final report on the experiment.

Some critics of the citizenship question are holding their judgment of the bureau’s early findings. An earlier study by researchers at the bureau suggested the question would have deterred at least 9 million people from self-responding to the census.

“All other research to date by the Census Bureau has indicated that adding a citizenship question to the census would depress responses among noncitizens and Hispanics,” Dale Ho, an ACLU attorney who is helping to represent plaintiffs in lawsuits over the question, said in a written statement. “We look forward to seeing whether the full results of this latest study are consistent with the bureau’s previous findings in this regard.”

But in a statement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — who oversees the bureau and approved adding the question — called the preliminary results “gratifying news to those who supported its inclusion.”

Throughout the legal battle over the question, opponents raised concerns that adding a citizenship question would force the Census Bureau into spending more time and money to gather responses from reluctant households.

However, the bureau’s preliminary analysis of its field test suggests it would not have needed more door knockers to follow up with people in households who did not fill out a form themselves, Velkoff wrote in the blog post.

Velkoff added that it’s unclear from these test results how the question could have impacted the “completeness and accuracy” of the 2020 census overall.

The bureau’s early findings come more than a year and a half after Ross announced his decision in 2018 to add the hotly contested question. This summer, three federal courts permanently blocked the question from being added — in part because the bureau had not conducted required testing of public reaction to including a citizenship question on 2020 census forms.

The nine-week test took place in the midst of a heated legal battle over the question. By early July, it sparked confusion around the country about why the bureau was continuing to use census forms to ask about people’s U.S. citizenship status after a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to keep the question off.

The bureau has said the test results could be “valuable” to any officials considering adding such a question to future census forms.

After backing down from efforts to use the 2020 census to ask about citizenship status, the Trump administration is now moving forward with compiling government records to produce detailed citizenship data.

In an executive order released in July, President Trump said that he wants the data to be available for state redistricting officials to use when redrawing voting districts after the national head count. A prominent GOP redistricting strategist, Thomas Hofeller, has concluded that this kind of citizenship data could give Republicans and non-Hispanic white people a political advantage.

In his executive order, Trump also left open the possibility of a resurrected political fight over a census citizenship question. The president directed the commerce secretary, who oversees the Census Bureau, to “consider initiating any administrative process necessary to include a citizenship question on the 2030 decennial census.”

Source: Census Bureau Releases Preliminary Results Of 2019 Test Of Citizenship Question

Before the 2020 Census Citizenship Fight, a Parallel Crisis

Another historical reminder:

After months of headlines, presidential tweets and a Supreme Court decision, the 2020 Census will not ask people about their citizenship status.

President Donald Trump and his advisers tried to add the question, claiming it was necessary to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, while Census Bureau officials, civil rights advocates and a coalition of dozens of states and cities argued the real intent was to scare immigrants and prevent a growing portion of the U.S. population from being counted. The Supreme Court ultimately blocked the citizenship question and ruled the Administration’s justification was “contrived” — but the controversy is far from over, and is sure to come up when the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, testifies before Congress on Wednesday.

But this is not the first time such debates have surfaced. The census has always been political, since the framers of the Constitution created it as a tool for determining political representation, and today’s controversy over the 2020 Census specifically echoes a crisis that occurred almost exactly 100 years ago.

Then, as now, the controversy centered on the presence of immigrants and the rising importance of cities. These changes were key because the Census not only counts how many people live in the U.S., but it also determines how much voting power and funding different areas of the country receive; as populations change, so do they. Those measurements are supposed to be updated as each Census is conducted every 10 years, and it has long been understood that a correct update requires counting all residents, not just all citizens.

But when the 1920 Census results came out, Congress was so unhappy with its results that they ignored the numbers for nearly a decade, refusing to adjust even as the composition of the American population was clearly changing.

The years leading up to that Census had already seen a rise of anti-immigrant fervor, concern over labor unions and other “radicals,” and race riots igniting across the Midwest. It was in this context that the 1920 Census determined that the U.S. not only already included a large number of immigrants, but also that the majority of Americans officially lived in cities for the first time in the nation’s history. This represented a major shift from just a few decades earlier, when most Americans lived in the countryside and many worked on farms. Now, the country had become industrialized and the government had evidence that people were flocking to urban areas from their rural surroundings and from abroad. Applying the results of the Census would mean moving power and funding to cities, which leaned toward the Democratic Party.

This all proved too much for the Republican-dominated Congress, many of whom were elected from rural districts. So the members of Congress claimed the census numbers simply had to be wrong.

Source: Before the 2020 Census Citizenship Fight, a Parallel Crisis

Analysis: Why the 2020 census doesn’t need a citizenship question to count the undocumented

Good in depth analysis for data nerds:

It is now clear that there will be no question about citizenship on the 2020 U.S. Census.

After the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration, President Trump vowed to find a way to include the question. But with no legal path forward and time running out, the administration ultimately backed down.

Opponents of the citizenship question remain concerned about the census, though hopeful that more immigrant households will respond to the census now that the question has been removed.

But others worry that it will be much harder to keep track of undocumented immigrants. President Trump argued that a citizenship question was needed, saying: “I think it is very important to find out if somebody is a citizen as opposed to an illegal.”

However, a citizenship question wouldn’t actually help the government distinguish between who is an undocumented immigrant and who is not. The question distinguishes only between citizens and noncitizens, and noncitizens are not the same as undocumented immigrants. For example, three out of five noncitizens are in the country legally.

Even more importantly, demographers have figured out a simple and effective way to estimate the number of unauthorized immigrants – even without information on citizenship. In the last five years, my colleagues Frank D. Bean, James D. Bachmeier and I have conducted a series of studies that evaluate this method and its assumptions.

Our research on the methods used to estimate the size of the group indicates that existing estimates – putting the undocumented population at about 11 million – are reasonably accurate.

Here’s how it works.

What’s the formula?

Beginning in the late 1970s, a group of demographers consisting primarily of Jeffrey Passel, Robert Warren, Jacob Siegel, Gregory Robinson and Karen Woodrow introduced the “residual method” for estimating the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the country.

At the time, Passel and his collaborators were affiliated with the U.S. Bureau of the Census and Warren with the Office of Immigration Statistics of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Much of this work was published in the form of internal reports, but some of it appeared in major journals.

The residual method uses an estimate of the total foreign-born population in the country, based on U.S. Census data. Researchers then subtract from it the number of legal immigrants residing here, estimated from government records of legal immigrants who receive “green cards” minus the number that died or left the country. The result is an estimate of the unauthorized population.

Various adjustments are typically made to this formula. Most adjustments are minor, but a particularly important one adjusts for what researchers call “coverage error” among the unauthorized foreign-born. Coverage error occurs when the census data underestimate the size of a group. This can occur when people live in nonresidential or unconventional locations – such as on the streets or in a neighbor’s basement – or when they fail to respond to the census.

Coverage error could be particularly high among unauthorized immigrants because they may be trying to avoid detection. The Census Bureau’s own research suggests that asking about citizenship would likely aggravate this issue.

Currently, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pew Hispanic Center and the Center for Migration Studies are the major producers of estimates of the unauthorized foreign-born population.

Chart by The Conversation, CC-BY-ND. Data source: <a href="https://www.pewhispanic.org/2019/06/03/facts-on-u-s-immigrants/" rel="nofollow noopener noreferrer" target="_blank" >Pew Research Center</a>

Chart by The Conversation, CC-BY-ND. Data source: Pew Research Center

How accurate are the estimates?

The residual method has been widely used and accepted since the late 1970s. Within a reasonable margin of error, it predicted the number of unauthorized immigrants to legalize under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which, among other things, granted permanent residency status to unauthorized immigrants who had been living in the country since 1982. The residual method predicted that about 2.2 millionmet the residency requirement; the actual number to come forward was about 1.7 million.

Both Department of Homeland Security and Pew have used the residual method to estimate the unauthorized population since 2005. Despite using slightly different data and assumptions, Pew’s, Department of Homeland Security’s, and the Center for Migration Studies’s estimates have never differed by more than 1 million people, less than 10% of the total unauthorized population.

Nevertheless, skeptics question a key assumption of the residual method, which is that unauthorized immigrants participate in census surveys. All three organizations listed above inflate their estimates to account for the possibility that some unauthorized immigrants are missing from census data. For example, Pew inflates by about 13%. But is this enough?

My colleagues and I estimated coverage error among Mexican immigrants, a group that composes 60% of all unauthorized immigrants.

Even if they are not counted in a census, populations leave “footprints” of their presence in the form of deaths and births. Because people give birth and die with known regularity, regardless of their legal status, we were able to use birth and death records of all Mexican-born persons to determine the number of Mexican-born persons living in the U.S. We also looked at changes in Mexican census data between 1990 and 2010 to gauge the size of Mexico’s “missing” population, most of whom moved to the U.S.

We then compared these estimates with the estimated number of Mexican immigrants in census data. We found that the census missed as many as 26% of unauthorized immigrants in the early 2000s.

We speculated that this could have been due to the large numbers of temporary Mexican labor migrants who were living in the U.S. at the time. Because many worked in construction during the housing boom and lived in temporary housing arrangements, it may have been particularly difficult to accurately account for them in census surveys.

However, when the Great Recession and housing crisis hit, many of these temporary workers went home or stopped coming to the U.S. in the first place, and coverage error declined. By 2010, the coverage error may have been as low as 6% and does not appear to have changed much since then.

If current levels of coverage error for all unauthorized immigrants were as high as 26%, then the number living in the country could be as high as 13 million. But if coverage error were as low as 6%, then the figure could be as low as 10.3 million. The true number likely falls within that narrow range.

What this boils down to is that demographers already have a pretty good idea of the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., even without relying on citizenship data. If coverage error has declined as much as we think it has, then the truth is at the lower end of this range.

Will administrative records improve the estimates?

Looking ahead, methods could change as new data become available.

In the wake of its Supreme Court loss, the Trump administration issued an executive order directing government agencies to share administrative data on citizenship.

They want to link information on citizenship and immigration status in administrative records to everyone’s census responses. For example, the executive order requests the Department of Homeland Security’s records on refugee and asylum visas, as well as Master Beneficiary Records from the Social Security Administration. They want to use this information to estimate the undocumented population at very detailed levels of geography for purposes of redistricting, reapportionment and the allocation of public funds.

(It is worth noting that the Census Bureau is a fortress when it comes to protecting your data. Under federal law, the Census Bureau cannot share your personal information with anyone, including other government agencies such as ICE.)

Regardless of how anyone feels about these policy proposals, administrative data may not be up to the task. In my view, administrative records are complicated to use. They can provide inconsistent information about the same person depending on which agency’s records are used.

Additionally, the records will be of limited value for describing those who fall outside of the administrative records system, which can happen for all kinds of reasons. Even if the Trump administration uses administrative records to estimate the undocumented population, researchers will still need to make assumptions about coverage error, just like they do for the residual method.

Overall, I suspect that administrative records could help answer some narrowly defined questions about immigrants and improve national estimates. The jury is still out about their ability to provide definitive answers about the precise numbers of undocumented immigrants, particularly at detailed levels of geography.

Source: Analysis: Why the 2020 census doesn’t need a citizenship question to count the undocumented

In killing citizenship question, Trump adopts Census Bureau’s preferred solution to a thorny problem

After all the sound and fury, after all the lies and pretence:

President Donald Trump’s decision this afternoon to abandon plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census and instead rely on existing government records to generate citizenship statistics matches the Census Bureau’s preferred option for dealing with the politically explosive issue. It’s also a win for those who have wanted to keep such a charged question off the decennial headcount.

“This is Option C,” says former Census Director John Thompson, referring to a March 2018 memo in which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross spelled out several options for developing a citizenship tally, and gave his rationale for deciding to include the question on the count that will begin on 1 April. Option C “is what the Census Bureau proposed to Secretary Ross,” adds Thompson, who stepped down in June 2017, a few months after Ross began his clandestine efforts to get the Department of Justice to request the question. Ross eventually chose what he called Option D, a combination of using information already in government agency files, known as administrative records, along with a yes/no question about citizenship on the census questionnaire sent to U.S. households.

The Supreme Court, however, blocked Ross’s decision, saying he had violated administrative law by providing a “contrived” rather than a “genuine” explanation for why he wanted to add the question. Critics of the question say it would have prompted many people living in the United States to decline to answer the census, leading to an undercount of the population, and was motivated by a desire to reduce the political power of regions that tend to support Democratic candidates.

Today, speaking at a hastily arranged one-way press conference in which he took no questions, Trump said he will issue an executive order telling every federal agency to “immediately” provide the Commerce Department with “all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in our country.” He said the goal is to generate “an accurate count of how many citizens, non-citizens, and illegal aliens are in the United States of America. Not too much to ask.”

Census experts say that the agency should be able to satisfy the president’s request to develop data on the first two categories – citizens and non-citizens. And the Census Bureau already has agreements with a number of federal and state agencies that allow it to access administrative records that include some citizenship information, according to this 2018 analysis by bureau researchers. But using administrative records to determine the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. is not possible, the experts say. And that’s a good thing, believes Robert Santos, vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

“What this administration really wanted was a tally of those who are undocumented,” says Santos, who is also president-elect of the American Statistical Association. “But that’s not going to happen. They will fly under the radar.” As a result, he says, “now they can participate in the census without fear” of political repercussions.

It’s also good news for Census Bureau, he adds. Extracting the agency from the bitterly partisan national debate over immigration should allow it to do its job of carrying out a complete and accurate census, he says.

Civil rights groups opposing the question also hailed the president’s decision as a victory but said they hadn’t given up their fight against the administration’s policies. “This is a welcome reprieve of his partisan agenda, and a win for all communities,” says Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference Education Fund in Washington, D.C. “[But] we remain on guard to combat any attempts to sabotage a fair and accurate count.”

Source: In killing citizenship question, Trump adopts Census Bureau’s preferred solution to a thorny problem

And further commentary:

Donald Trump pretended he was doing something meaningful on Thursday after he was forced to cave in on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

But his post-cave bait-and-switch to push an executive order is also going up in flames almost immediately after it was issued.

Page said:

“So just saying it’s not a cave does not make it not a cave. Just the attorney general saying congratulations, Mr. President, does not make it a congratulatory moment. And the executive order, it is not at all clear that it’s necessary to have a new executive order to give publicly available data from federal agencies to the Commerce Department. That would seem to be something that would be easy to do. And in fact, as you noted, the government already calculates the number of illegal immigrants and the number of non-citizens who live in this country, and they’ve done that for some time.”

Trump is pulling out all the distractions after his census cave-in

Donald Trump’s executive order stunt that he announced on Thursday isn’t the only distraction he’s pulling out following his census loss.

It was also reported today that the administration would move forward with its raids on thousands of undocumented migrant families. According to The New York Times, “Nationwide raids to arrest thousands of members of undocumented families have been scheduled to begin Sunday, according to two current and one former homeland security officials.”

The raids, which had been delayed last month due to widespread backlash, will likely separate more families. Even the president’s acting DHS secretary has admitted as much.

Of course, none of these steps are being taken because they are sound policy solutions. They are just the latest in a two-year string of distractions meant to paper over an endless string of policy and political failures from this White House.

Source: Trump’s Citizenship Executive Order Is Already Going Up In Flames

The Other Census Disaster That’s Waiting to Happen

Have seen earlier discussion of the issue but this is the most comprehensive analysis:

Everyone hoping for an accurate 2020 Census breathed a sigh of relief two weeks ago when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to block the Trump administration’s cynical attempt to add a citizenship question to the forms—only to experience Twitter-tantrum whiplash when the president ordered his administration to make a last-ditch attempt to include it.

But with so much attention focused on the controversy over the citizenship question, another similarly disastrous Census Bureau decision has gone largely unnoticed: the administration’s choice not to substantively update the decennial survey’s questions on race. As a result, no matter how conscientiously Census Bureau staff administer the survey, a woefully inadequate portrait of the changing face of America will emerge.

The last census, in 2010, became a data disaster when “some other race,” showed up as the third-largest racial group in America. Over 20 million respondents, most with roots in Latin America or the Middle East, selected this none-of-the-above option, making it the most popular choice after white and black. Any time a public-opinion survey asks respondents to self-categorize and “none of the above” comes back as a popular answer, it’s a clear sign that the choices given don’t match up with people’s identities.

Facing this problem squarely, the Obama administration convened the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, a panel of academic experts and minority community leaders, to advise the Bureau on improving its race questions for 2020. The committee made myriad recommendations, most crucially suggesting that a “Middle East or North Africa” category sit alongside the “Hispanic origins” box in the upcoming questionnaire. But the Trump administration overruled this advice and, aside from a few minor tweaks, is flying into the 2020 survey without substantive changes. Given continued Latin American and Middle Eastern immigration since 2010, and the more extreme forms of racial “othering” these groups have faced ever since candidate Donald J. Trump came down the escalator in 2015, experts fear that “some other race” will become the second-largest racial group in America according to the 2020 Census.

Every census since the founding of the country has asked about race and ethnicity. Until recent decades, race was not a matter of self-identification; historically, federal census-takers were charged with determining the race of each resident of their assigned census tracts according to their era’s standards. Tracing how race questions have changed over time offers a time-lapse history of American racial concepts in 10-year snapshots. (All of the race questions are conveniently archived on the website racebox.org.)

The most drastic changes to the census race questions took place after the fall of Reconstruction, at the rise of Jim Crow, when America’s mixed-race realities were blotted out and a strict racial binary imposed. Openly mixed-race activists, in particular Charleston’s “Browns” and New Orleans’s “Creoles of color,” had been central to post-Civil War civil rights progress. Their court challenges to segregation, of which Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was only the last and most famous, assailed the notion that Europeans and Africans remained distinct racial groups in America given centuries of overt and covert race-mixing. At the time, the “one-drop rule” that any African ancestry at all made an American a “Negro” was still new and not widely accepted. This more fluid racial mindset was reflected in the late 19th-century censuses, which all catalogued biracial “mulattos” as distinct from “whites” and “blacks.” The 1890 questionnaire recorded even finer-grained mixed-race categories: “quadroon” (an American with three European grandparents and one African grandparent) and “octoroon” (an American with seven European great-grandparents and one African great-grandparent). But with the firm establishment of the color line post-Plessy, the 1900 census switched to a unitary race. (Not until 2000 would the census again allow respondents to claim mixed-race identities, this time by checking more than one racial box.)

“Only in 1980 did the Census begin to grapple with Latino identity.”

As segregation took root, the stakes of being deemed “white” grew higher. Even as Jim Crow laws proliferated in the early 20th century, the states differed on their official definitions of what exactly a “white person” was and who precisely constituted a “colored person.” Myriad ethnic groups clamored to get into whiteness, often petitioning through the courts. “Semites,” for example, won their way into whiteness using clever, albeit pseudo-scientific, arguments. Their trump card, first argued in 1907 by H. A. Elkourie, a Syrian Christian physician in Birmingham, Alabama, was that if he wasn’t white then Jesus hadn’t been white either. Anglo-Americans’ revulsion at the thought they were worshipping a person of color each Sunday was strong enough that Elkourie and the fellow members of his “Semitic” “race” were deemed “white.”

The next major revamp of the census’s race questions came in the wake of the 1960s civil rights movement. For the first time, the Census Bureau empowered each respondent to choose her own race rather than have a census-taker determine it for her. And embracing the modern understanding that race has no biological reality, only societal meanings, the Census Bureau modified the racial categories to learn more about American society rather than engage in the fool’s errand of sorting humans into some fixed number of distinct races. To this end, the 1970 Census listed eight racial categories, one of which was “Hawaiian”—a useful category for understanding American society but a group so tiny no early-20th-century race scientists ever elevated it into their core “Races of Man.”

Only in 1980 did the census begin to grapple with Latino identity. Rather than add “Hispanic” to the list of races, it introduced a question to stand apart from the various racial choices: “Is this person of Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent?” By noting that Hispanics can be of any race, the Census Bureau hoped to track the growth of this community that comes in all colors. But this well-meaning attempt never fully worked since the Latin American and Anglo-American conceptions of race are fundamentally incompatible.

While the U.S., after Reconstruction, forced Americans to claim a retroactive racial purity, Latin America never denied its mestizo realities. On the most recent Brazilian census, for example, the majority of respondents identified as afrodecendente (Afro-descended). But in Brazil this identity does not in any way suggest that the same person is not also of European, Native American, and/or Asian descent; indeed, over 80 percent of self-identified afrodecendente Brazilians claimed roots on non-African continents as well.

In Mexico, the concept of race (la raza) is even more un-American. The Mexican supposition is that the people of the New World are, in a sense, a new race unto themselves, a mixture of all the world’s peoples. It is these mutually-incompatible conceptions of race between the U.S. and Latin America that has led millions of census respondents to check that they are of Latino origin but are members of “some other race.”

Arab-Americans are similarly migrants from an alternate racial system. Arab identity embraces people of all skin colors and is largely tied to language—people whose mother tongue is Arabic are Arabs even if they don’t live on Asia’s Arabian Peninsula. Though officially white in America since the early-20th-century rulings that “Semites” are white, contemporary American racism has again called Arab whiteness into question.

“The best-case scenario is that none-of-the-above comes out as the third-largest race in America rather than second-largest.”

The most recent federal definition of a “white person,” formulated in 1997 by the Office of Management and Budget and currently used by the Census Bureau—“A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa”—clearly includes Arabs. But if “whiteness” has no biological reality and is purely a socially-constructed category in American society for those who enjoy full citizenship, including the presumption of innocence, since 9/11, Middle Easterners have no longer been white. This mismatch between being officially white by the federal definition but not being treated as white in American society has sparked a wildcat campaign among some Middle Easterners not to check the “white” box on the Census (tag-line: “Check it right, you ain’t white”). Indeed, the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations found many Middle Eastern- and North African-Americans are doing just that, checking “some other race” in defiance of the current federal definition of whiteness.

At this point the 2020 race questions are set, with just a few tweaks from 2010. The 2020 form will include “Lebanese” and “Egyptian” as examples of white ethnicities to remind Arabs to, essentially, “check it right, you are white.” The new wording also adds “Aztec” and “Mayan” as examples of American Indian ethnicities to instruct people with roots in the New World beyond the United States borders that they should still identify themselves as indigenous.

Even with these minor changes, the best-case scenario is that none-of-the-above comes out as the third-largest race in America rather than second-largest. Whiteness in America is in flux today in a way it hasn’t been in a century—even if the Census Bureau’s political appointees, in keeping with the Trump administration’s Know-Nothingism on race, won’t admit it. An administration that has backed border walls and Muslim bans has already shown Latinos and Middle Easterners that, if whiteness means first-class citizenship, they’re no longer white. The painful irony is that the rise of “some other race” at first glance suggests America is becoming post-racial, while its real roots are in rising racism.

Source: The Other Census Disaster That’s Waiting to Happen

Citizenship question causing an uproar in U.S. has been part of Canada’s census since 1901

Politicization and weaponization in contrast to the more neutral approach in Canada:

A politically divisive debate continues to rage over U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census. That same question has been part of Canada’s census form for over a century without a ripple.

Trump has been waging a fierce fight to add the controversial query to the 2020 census, and said Friday he’s now considering an executive order to get it done after a Supreme Court ruling blocked his efforts.

Canada’s own long form census asks: “Of what country is this person a citizen?” Respondents have a choice of three possible answers: ‘Canada, by birth,’ ‘Canada, by naturalization’ or ‘Other country – specify.’

A spokeswoman for Statistics Canada, which manages the census, said the citizenship data is vital to various programs.

“The citizenship question has a long history on the Canadian census, being introduced for the first time on the 1901,” said Emily Theelen in an email.

“This information is used to estimate the number of potential voters and to plan citizenship classes and programs. It also provides information about the population with multiple citizenships and the number of immigrants in Canada who hold Canadian citizenship.”

Theelen said Statistics Canada’s data quality assessment indicators have not flagged any issues specifically related to the citizenship question. The Library of Parliament could not find any significant debate, controversy or court case related to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the Canadian census form.

In the U.S., the Republican administration’s push has triggered a partisan firestorm because of the enormous political stakes.

The once-a-decade population count determines the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives among the states, and the disbursement of about $675 billion in federal funding.

Disadvantage for Democrats

The Census Bureau’s own experts have said the question would discourage immigrants from participating in the census, which would result in a less-accurate census. That, say critics, would redistribute money and political power away from Democrat-led urban districts — where immigrants tend to cluster — and toward whiter, rural areas where Republicans do well.

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said the political and electoral landscape in Canada is drastically different from the one in the U.S. and would not allow for that kind of “gerrymandering” — the manipulation of electoral boundaries to favour one party over others.

“In Canada, we have an impartial electoral commission that redistributes the electoral boundaries according to the law based on objective criteria,” he said. “It’s not an issue here at all, because we don’t have that kind of gerrymandering that they have in the U.S.”

No sign of abuse in Canada

Waldman said it’s possible a census result showing a high percentage of undocumented people in a specific region of the U.S. could lead to stepped-up Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) patrols there.

Up to now, there has been no evidence that census information has been abused in that way in Canada.

The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it will continue to look for legal grounds to include the question on the census, but it did not say what options it’s considering.

The U.S. government already has begun the process of printing the census questionnaire without the citizenship question, but Trump suggested Friday that officials might be able to add the citizenship query to the questionnaire after it’s been printed.

In the Supreme Court’s decision last week, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s justification for adding the question “seems to have been contrived.”

The Trump administration has said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box.

Canada conducts a census every four years. The next census is due in 2020.

Source: Citizenship question causing an uproar in U.S. has been part of Canada’s census since 1901

Historical Fiction at the Supreme Court: The Census and Citizenship

Good critique:
A divided Supreme Court last week blocked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from adding an untested citizenship question to the 2020 census. The Court’s ruling is a victory for representative democracy over the Trump administration’s latest power play, which would have led to a dramatic undercount of the country’s noncitizen population, with substantial implications for federal funding and political representation. In the process of reaching the right outcome, however, the Court has rewritten history, with justices up and down the bench joining together to create an atmosphere of normalcy around a question that is anything but.

Coming into the Supreme Court after a series of decisive trial-court defeats, Donald Trump’s administration really had only two defenses for the citizenship question: first, that it would help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act on behalf of minority communities; and second, that the administration was simply “reinstating” a question that had a deep “pedigree” stretching back “nearly 200 years.”

The Court rejected the Voting Rights Act defense as a pretext. That was all the challengers needed legally, since the law governing federal-agency decision making requires the stated reason for an agency’s action to be the real reason. But the Court accepted much of the administration’s historical argument—which is wrong, as we explained in a law-review article based on research into centuries-old census instructions, mid-century statistical texts, and decades of congressional proceedings.

Most significant, Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion and the partial concurrences are littered with assertions that the Trump administration was trying to “reinstate” the citizenship question. Even justices who were otherwise skeptical of the administration’s scheme and seemed to have a better grip on the historical record—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor—referred repeatedly to “reinstatement.” That word obscures the nature of what the administration was trying to do.

Never in the 230-year history of the census has the complete-count questionnaire (or its equivalent) asked for the citizenship status of everyone in the country, as Ross proposed. When citizenship was asked at all, it was directed to small segments of the population, such as foreign-born men 21 or older (1890 to 1910) or foreign-born people (1930 to 1950), mainly to figure out how well they were assimilating into the United States. After the 1950 census, questions about citizenship or naturalization were confined to sample surveys that went to only a small percentage of households.

The Court acknowledged the change in census practice after 1950, but it mangled the details of the practice leading up to that point, incorrectly treating questions about “birthplace” and “citizenship” as equivalent and asserting that “between 1820 and 1950, the question was asked of all households.” The fact is that multiple censuses during that period had no citizenship question (1840, 1850, 1860, and 1880), and—as mentioned—those that did include one did not direct it at every person in a household. These various errors allowed the Court to ignore the ultimate conclusion it should have drawn from the history: The Trump administration’s gambit was unprecedented, not a return to form.

The majority opinion also soft-pedaled the Census Bureau’s decision to remove all citizenship and naturalization questions from the decennial census following the 1950 count. It is true, as the Court claims, that the bureau concluded that citizenship information had declined in importance to the government, researchers, and other users of census data by this time. But the bureau didn’t just get rid of questions that were unimportant—it overhauled its whole approach, because traditional practices were deficient in accomplishing the one thing the Constitution’s enumeration clause requires the government to do: count everyone in the country.

Traditionally, the federal government tried to do two things at once with the census: count all heads and collect other useful information. By the 1950s, the Census Bureau’s social-science skills had evolved sufficiently that it could evaluate how well it was doing its job, and it found that the second ambition was impeding the first; the count was missing millions while wasting resources. So the bureau stripped out extraneous questions from the main survey, including dozens of other “demographic questions,” as the Court called them. Census Director Robert W. Burgess explained the benefits of these changes to Congress in the lead-up to the 1960 census: “For a long time, the Census Bureau has believed that enumerators were being burdened with more instructions and work than they could effectively handle, with the result that both coverage and content suffered.

The majority similarly understated the Census Bureau’s resistance to proposals in the 1970s and ’80s that would have required it to assess everyone’s citizenship status. According to the Court, the bureau was concerned that such efforts “would discourage noncitizens from responding to the census,” and, in the words of a 1980 district-court opinion characterizing the bureau’s position, that those efforts would “inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count.” During this period, Census Bureau Director Vincent Barabba warned that the “census is just not designed for” asking everyone’s citizenship status, and that doing so would erode “the credibility of the Bureau, and, more importantly, the credibility and public confidence in—and, indeed, the accuracy of—the figures embodied in the final census results.” Similarly, the bureau warned—in language from the 1980 case omitted by the Court last week—that “questions as to citizenship are particularly sensitive in minority communities and would inevitably trigger hostility, resentment, and refusal to cooperate.” The concern during this period, then, wasn’t some unspecified loss of accuracy due to “discouragement”; it was a full collapse of the census and everything it stands for, driven by widespread fear of, and anger toward, the government.In his partial concurrence, Breyer supplied some of this crucial context, but a majority made up of Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh overlooked it in ruling that the administration’s decision didn’t violate the Constitution’s enumeration clause. They asserted that citizenship questions have been “open, widespread, and unchallenged since the early days of the Republic.” This is preposterous. If “history matters”—as the conservative majority asserts—it must matter that Ross proposed to do something that has, in fact, never been done before. And it must matter that, for the past 70 years, the Census Bureau—the agency primarily charged with counting everyone—believed that citizenship questions and a whole host of other demographic questions didn’t belong on the decennial headcount, because they made it impossible to … count everyone. The Court thus sent the message that a citizenship question on the decennial census would be normal. The Court blocked the question because Ross lied about why he wanted it; but if he hadn’t lied, it would have been fine.

For more than a year now, the simple prospect of a citizenship question on the 2020 census has elevated vulnerable communities’ fears of the federal government. The Supreme Court’s ruling should help mitigate those fears somewhat. But the Court could have and should have taken a far stronger posture than it did, ruling not that the citizenship question was administratively imperfect, but that it was unconstitutional and un-American.

Source: Historical Fiction at the Supreme Court