USA: Documents Show Political Lobbying in Census Question About Citizenship

Not surprising. Echoes of the Conservative government’s approach to the 2011 Census/National Household Survey:

Documents released in a lawsuit attempting to block the inclusion of a question about citizenship in the 2020 census show lobbying by anti-immigration hard-liners for the question’s inclusion, and resistance on the part of some census officials to asking it.

The Kansas secretary of state, Kris W. Kobach, who has taken a strong position against illegal immigration and was appointed by President Trump to a now-defunct panel on voter fraud, had advocated the question directly with the secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, according to the documents. In a July 2017 email to an aide to Mr. Ross, Mr. Kobach said that he had reached out to the secretary a few months earlier “on the direction of Steve Bannon,” then the White House chief strategist.

In an email to Mr. Ross, Mr. Kobach urged the addition of the question, saying that including undocumented immigrants in the decennial count of the United States population would, among other things, lead to the problem “that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes.”

The documents were released by the Justice Department late Friday night in response to a federal lawsuit from the attorneys general of 18 states aimed at blocking the inclusion of the question, which was added to the census questionnaire in March.

The 1,332 pages released by the Commerce Department show a chorus of warnings from scientists, immigrant groups and lawmakers. They also includes letters of support from others who endorse the question, including Representative Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia.

Mr. Ross defended the addition of the question, pointing to the documents released. “I am confident that after months of review and consideration, this administrative record proves that the return of the citizenship question to the Decennial Census is the right move that will allow our country to have the most complete and accurate census information available,” he said.

The Commerce Department added in a statement that “the notion that Secretary Ross decided to reinstate the citizenship question in response to a single email” is disproved by the fact that Mr. Kobach’s note is but one of the more than 500 pages of records produced.

Many of the letters in the documents released support the legal justification for the inclusion of the question. Mr. Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it was necessary to uphold Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits United States citizens from being denied the right to vote because of race.

“In order to best enforce this prohibition, an accurate enumeration of the number of citizens in America should be conducted, and the most accurate such enumeration would be one in which a question regarding citizenship were reinstated starting with the 2020 census,” Mr. Goodlatte wrote.

Arthur Gary, the general counsel in the Justice Department’s justice management division, also invoked the enforcement of that Act as reason to include the question, according to the documents.

But there were also detailed scientific arguments opposing it, according to an analysis conducted by John M. Abowd, the chief scientist and associate director for research and methodology at the United States Census Bureau, that was included in the documents. The impact of asking about citizenship would be “major potential quality and cost disruptions,” it asserted.

The research also showed that the cost of adding this question, Mr. Abowd said, would be at least an additional $27.5 million, which would cover Census Bureau personnel having to track down households that did not respond.

“We believe that $27.5 million is a conservative estimate because the other evidence cited in this report suggests that the differences between citizen and noncitizen response rates and data quality will be amplified during the 2020 census compared to historical levels,” Mr. Abowd wrote in a Jan. 19 memo.

The Census Scientific Advisory Committee, a group of academics and scientists mandated to review the census by the Congress, also strongly disagreed with the inclusion of the question. “We hold the strong opinion that including citizenship in the 2020 census would be a serious mistake which would result in a substantial lowering of the response rate,” the committee said.

“These documents make clear what we already knew — career staff at the Census Bureau warned the political leadership at the Commerce Department that the inclusion of a citizenship question would depress census response rates, increase costs and diminish the quality of census data,” said Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Ms. Gupta said that the release showed political meddling by Mr. Kobach and Mr. Bannon in the census process.

The office of Mr. Kobach did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Mr. Bannon immediately respond.

In response to the release of the documents, Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, asked Trey Gowdy, the committee chairman, to subpoena the Commerce and Justice Departments. He said the Justice Department omitted “entire categories of requested documents.”

This spring Mr. Cummings and other committee members asked both departments for any and all conversations, analyses and documentation related to the citizenship question, including the impact it could have on census response rates and costs. They wanted to know who worked on the issue and whether anyone expressed concerns, inside or outside of government. They specifically asked the Justice Department for all communications related to how the question would help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department is reviewing the document requests it received this spring from the House, but the information it produced Friday night was for the lawsuit and unrelated to the Oversight Committee’s efforts to obtain information.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Cummings’s statement.

Republican committee members have said they support production of the documents and would vote to subpoena for more information if necessary.

The citizenship question has not been on a decennial census since 1950. It has been on the annual American Community Survey, however, since 2005, but that goes to fewer households, rather than the entire country.

The lawsuit filed in April by 18 attorneys general, six cities and the United States Conference of Mayors — led by New York — argued that the question would result in an undercount, which would not only “fatally undermine the accuracy of the 2020 census, but will jeopardize critical federal funding needed by states and localities to provide services and support for millions of residents.”

“Further,” the suit continued, “it will deprive historically marginalized immigrant communities of critical public and private resources over the next 10 years.”

A subsequent lawsuit was filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights groups, charging that asking the citizenship question thwarts the constitutional mandate to accurately count the United States population.

The Complicated History Of The U.S. Census Asking About Citizenship : NPR

Nice summary history (spoiler alert: squeezed out given concerns over Census length with addition of consumer and other questions):

Lawmakers are set to question the Justice Department Friday about why it requested the 2020 census to ask about citizenship. The history of using the U.S. census to ask about citizenship has many twists and turns.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Justice Department point person on civil rights heads to Capitol Hill tomorrow for what may be a tough hearing. It is about the 2020 census. The department has requested that the census form include a question about U.S. citizenship. The federal government has used the census to ask people about their citizenship before. NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang explains the surprising history.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: This is a story with lots of stops and starts, so we’ll need a tour guide.

MARGO ANDERSON: My name is Margo Anderson.

WANG: She’s a history professor at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

ANDERSON: Right. And I’m the author of “The American Census: A Social History.”

WANG: And she traces the first time all U.S. households were asked about citizenship all the way back to the census of 1820.

Was this still done on horseback at that time?

ANDERSON: Oh, certainly (laughter) – or walking.

WANG: That was the country’s fourth headcount. And census takers asked…

ANDERSON: Are there any foreigners not naturalized in your household? And if so, how many?

WANG: Anderson says she’s not sure why these questions were included.

ANDERSON: I haven’t found yet any evidence of the use of that information in terms of policies, which I think is why it simply disappeared.

WANG: By 1840, the government stops asking about foreigners who are not citizens. Fifty years pass before the topic comes up again in 1890. By this point, the federal government had been asking for decades about where people were born and where their parents were born. Anderson explains why.

ANDERSON: Well, we have lots of immigrants in the country right now. How are they doing?

WANG: So for the 1890 census, people born outside the U.S. were asked how long they’ve been in the country and whether they’ve become citizens. And census takers kept asking similar questions well into the 20th century.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “IN THE SUBURBS”)

WANG: We’re going to skip ahead to the years just before the 1960 headcount.

ANDERSON: The census officials and Congress begin to sort of say do we really still need to ask this?

WANG: The number of immigrants in the U.S. had been dropping. The list of census questions was long. And as this 1957 short film by Redbook magazine puts it…

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “IN THE SUBURBS”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) It’s a happy go-spending world reflected in the windows of the suburban shopping centers where they go to buy.

WANG: Business leaders and researchers pushed the government to ask about a different set of topics.

ANDERSON: Particularly a lot of questions about consumer goods. Do people have televisions and washing machines?

WANG: This is what squeezes out the citizenship question.

ANDERSON: Yes.

WANG: In 1970, the government starts asking about citizenship on a small survey for a sample of households. Fast-forward to today. The Trump administration has approved a new citizenship question for all households in 2020. The Justice Department says it needs data from it to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But Anderson says this citizenship question may confuse a lot of people.

ANDERSON: It’s like, why are you asking me this? Of course I’m a citizen. I was born here.

WANG: Critics say those born outside the U.S. may stay away from the census because of the question. More than two dozen states and cities are suing to remove it. Anderson sees this debate as part of the complicated census history of asking about citizenship. It’s been a series of twists and turns over 200 years. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Washington.

via The Complicated History Of The U.S. Census Asking About Citizenship : NPR

Why Trump’s Census Change Could Hit Asian-Americans Especially Hard

Some interesting analysis of how certain groups of Asian Americans will be more affected (and the corresponding groups that overall are doing well and are unlikely to be affected, which the article does not mention):

The Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the census does not bode well for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, civil rights groups fear.

Research has already shown that the minority group is significantly undercounted in the survey, with one-fifth of Asian-Americans and one-third of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in hard-to-count census areas. This is partly due to the fact that some Asian-American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, subgroups have relatively high rates of poverty, unemployment and educational attainment, among other factors.

Experts say the question about citizenship will significantly reduce participation in the census, and Asian-American civil rights organizations are worried about how the question could affect the growing minority group.

“Given the high number of Asian immigrants, any question regarding citizenship is likely to scare the Asian community. We are very concerned that the addition of citizenship question will disproportionately cause an undercount in the Asian community,” John C. Yang, president and executive director of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, told HuffPost by email.

“The community already is fearful of the anti-immigrant rhetoric and immigration policies advanced by this administration,” Yang added. “At a minimum, the addition of this question will make it even more challenging to ensure that the community has sufficient trust in the census such that they will respond.”

Treating AAPIs as a monolith ignores how poverty and other factors contribute to undercounting in particular AAPI subgroups, according to a joint fact sheet by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Georgetown Law’s Center On Poverty and Inequality. While it’s often assumed that AAPIs are financially well-off, reports show that Cambodian-, Hmong- and Laotian-Americans, who predominantly came to the U.S. as refugees, experience higher than average rates of poverty and lower levels of income. More than one-third of Nepalese-Americans also live in poverty.

Communities with lower educational attainment are more difficult to count, too. And Southeast Asian-Americans have some of the highest dropout rates in the country, with about 34.3 percent of Laotian-American adults lacking high school diplomas, as well as 40 percent of Hmong-American and nearly the same percentage of Cambodian-American adults. Yet about 90 percent of the general U.S. adult population finishes high school or gets a GED certificate.

Lower rates of English proficiency contribute to undercounting in the census as well. More than one-third of AAPIs have limited English proficiency, defined as a limited ability to read, speak, write or understand English. And the majority of AAPIs speak a language other than English.

What’s more, much of the AAPI community in the U.S. is made up of immigrants. In fact, almost 60 percent of AAPIs were born in another country, and an estimated 1.7 million undocumented AAPI immigrants live in U.S. The concept of a census is completely foreign for many new immigrants, Yang said, which, along with the citizenship question, would further discourage many AAPIs from participating.

Increased undercounting of AAPIs could have notable repercussions, Yang noted. A report from the GW Institute of Public Policy shows that more than $800 billion of federal funding in fiscal year 2016 relied on census data. And with census data meant to determine political representation, lower participation in the survey could mean AAPI concerns go ignored while resources for hospitals, disaster relief services, health care services and more are misallocated, Yang said.

“Undercount of the Asian American Pacific Islander community will leave the community underrepresented, under-resourced, and under-protected,” he explained. “An undercount will mean that congressional districts will be allocated and drawn without an accurate understanding [of] the Asian American community.”

Already, several AAPI organizations have spoken out against the citizenship question. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) chair, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), issued a statement condemning the new measure and expressing her commitment to using the legislative process to stop its implementation.

“The census is essential for ensuring fair and accurate representation and distribution of government resources,” Chu wrote. “But by including a question on citizenship, which is not required by the Constitution, the Trump Administration is exploiting the fear of immigrant communities who are already reticent to divulge personal information to the federal government.”

Social services nonprofit Asian American Federation, along with 35 partners, sent letters to both the CAPAC and the New York Congressional Delegation to advocate against the question. Citing the cost of hiring additional staff for follow-up on unanswered census questions, the question’s lack of testing, and the concerns of immigrant communities, the federation’s executive director, Jo-Ann Yoo, called on legislators to speak out.

Yang is now encouraging members of the public to fight back and make their views known once the U.S. Census Bureau seeks public comment on the questions. He also urges people to call members of Congress to show them how important the issue is to them.

via Why Trump’s Census Change Could Hit Asian-Americans Especially Hard

Are You a U.S. Citizen? How a 2020 Census Question Could Affect States – The New York Times

Good data rich analysis:

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced that it would add a citizenship question to the decennial census in 2020, citing the need for more granular data for determining Voting Rights Act violations. Critics say that adding the question could cause some immigrants — particularly those who are not citizens — not to respond, resulting in an undercount.

There is no reliable data to estimate how many people would opt out of the census, but a panel of experts from inside the United States Census Bureau still expressed opposition to the move, in part because of concerns about accuracy.

“Just because there is not clear evidence that adding the question would harm the census accuracy, this is not evidence that it will not,” they wrote in a memo.

About 56 percent of the nation’s 44 million immigrants are not United States citizens, and an estimated 45 percent of noncitizens are undocumented. Among those who are not citizens, undocumented immigrants have the lowest rates of participation in census surveys in general, experts say.

Accurate census counts are critical for many functions, including the disbursement of billions in federal and state dollars and the distribution of congressional seats and representation in state and local governments. At least 12 states, including New York and California, have filed lawsuits or have said they plan to sue the administration over the change.

An undercount of population could affect federal funding to states.

A recent Census Bureau report found that 132 programs used decennial census or related data to distribute more than $675 billion to states in 2015. Most of the money was related to health care, education and assistance for the poor.

Top federal assistance programs distributed using census data


A significant level of nonparticipation could affect congressional seats.

Some academics have created hypothetical scenarios to show how a reduction in participation could affect the distribution of congressional seats among states, which are determined by total residents, not just citizens.


According to Maxwell Palmer, an assistant professor of political science at Boston University, if 10 percent of Hispanic noncitizens opted out, Florida could lose one congressional seat, and Montana could gain one. In an extreme case, in which 100 percent of Hispanic noncitizens did not participate, a total of seven congressional seats could be reshuffled, with three lost by California and two by Texas, Dr. Palmer said.

Andrew A. Beveridge, a Queens College sociologist, warned against overstating the potential effects of the citizenship question. He said that the maximum share of noncitizens who do not respond would be 20 percent, which is not enough to trigger a huge change.

“This, as the analysis shows, would only move a couple of seats,” said Dr. Beveridge, who is also president of Social Explorer, a research site that analyzes census data.

via Are You a U.S. Citizen? How a 2020 Census Question Could Affect States – The New York Times

There is nothing wrong with a census question about citizenship | The Sacramento Bee

The contrary opinion by Marc Thiessen (thankfully, the citizenship question in Canada has never been controversial and has been around for a long time):

The Trump administration is being sued over its plans to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census, which California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says “is not just a bad idea – it is illegal.”

No, it’s not. There is nothing wrong with asking about citizenship. Canada asks a citizenship question on its census. So do Australia and many other U.S. allies. The U.S. government asked about citizenship for 130 years – from 1820 to 1950 – as part of the decennial “short form” census and continued to do so in the “long form” survey – distributed to 1 in 6 people – through 2000, when the long form was replaced by the annual American Community Survey. The ACS goes to about 2.6 percent of the population each year and asks about citizenship to this day.

So why are many on the left up in arms over a question that should be relatively uncontroversial? Answer: Money and power. Democrats are worried that adding a citizenship question will dampen participation in the census by illegal immigrants, reducing the total population count in the Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas where illegal immigrants are largely concentrated. Because census data is used to determine the distribution of federal funds, that could decrease the cities’ share of more than $675 billion a year in federal funding. And because census data is also used to create and apportion congressional seats, Democrats fear that if illegal immigrants don’t participate it could shift power from Democratic cities to rural communities, which tend to vote Republican.

At least, that’s Democrats’ theory. But there is no evidence that a citizenship question would dramatically impact census participation. The census is not like a telemarketing survey where people have the option of adding their names to a “do not call” list. Everyone is required by law to respond. If a household does not fill out the census form, then census workers visit that household to gather census data. If they still cannot get a household to cooperate, nonrespondents can be fined or prosecuted – though in practice they rarely are. Usually, the Census Bureau instead asks neighbors about the household in order to get as much accurate information as possible. This may add costs to the census, but it is not likely to produce inaccurate data.

Moreover, if asking about citizenship is a deterrent to participation by illegal immigrants, then what about the existing census question that asks whether respondents are “of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” – the only ethnic group specifically called out. Respondents are required by law to tell the government whether they are of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or other Hispanic origin, which they are required to list (”print origin, for example, Argentinean, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Spaniard, and so on”). If that does not deter the participation of many illegal immigrants, how would a question on citizenship?

There is no good reason not to answer the census, whether one is here legally or illegally. As the Census Bureau points out, “It is against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any census or survey information that identifies an individual or business .?.?. the FBI and other government entities do not have the legal right to access this information.” Furthermore, the proposed question is about citizenship, not legal status. This question should not be a deterrent to participation for anyone.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that some illegal immigrants do decide not to participate in the 2020 Census. So what? Illegal immigrants are here illegally. If they choose to violate U.S. law yet again by refusing to participate in the census because of a perfectly legitimate question about citizenship, that’s not the U.S. government’s fault.

This is a losing issue for Democrats. They are effectively arguing that sanctuary cities should be rewarded with more federal money for interfering with the federal enforcement of our immigration laws and turning themselves into magnets for illegal immigrants. And Democrats, who claim to be deeply concerned about foreign interference in our democracy, seem to have no problem with foreign interference when it comes to noncitizens in the United States illegally affecting the distribution of seats in Congress. If Democrats want to make that argument to the American people, go for it. It will further alienate millions of voters who abandoned the Democratic Party in the 2016 election.

via There is nothing wrong with a census question about citizenship | The Sacramento Bee

The Census’s New Citizenship Question Could Hurt Communities That Are Already Undercounted | FiveThirtyEight

Good detailed and balanced analysis:

After a long career as a banker and investor, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is no doubt familiar with cost-benefit analyses. That seems to have carried over to his political work. In a memo declaring that the 2020 census would ask U.S. inhabitants whether they are U.S. citizens,1 he wrote, “I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate.” The inclusion of the question was a request of the Justice Department, which says that it needs the information to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

But Ross isn’t the only one weighing costs against benefits when it comes to the census — respondents do it as well. Demographers and civil rights groups are concerned that under a president who has called for a ban on Muslims and immigrants from certain countries, dramatically reduced the number of refugees allowed into the country and cracked down on undocumented immigrants without criminal records, a citizenship question will push more people to decide that the risks of responding accurately to the questionnaire, or responding at all, outweigh the benefits. And the groups that seem most likely to be put off from responding — immigrants, members of households with immigrants, people living in poverty, among others — are the same ones that are already at highest risk of being uncounted.

There’s a lot at stake: The census has been used for hundreds of years to determine how many U.S. House members each state will have,2 and it currently helps determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending is divvied up. “The risk that really troubles me is that there’s a big undercount and then there’s a big lack of representation,” said John Thompson, who was director of the U.S. Census Bureau until he resigned last year (the bureau is still without a director).

Many groups were already less likely than others to respond to the census. Some of the non-response trends are geographical. The rural South and the Texas-Mexico border, for example, had many areas with low response rates during the last census, in 2010, according to data from the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

But there are pockets with low response rates almost everywhere, said Steven Romalewski, director of the center’s mapping service. “Every state has them,” he said. “Most congressional districts have them. It’s urban, rural and suburban, and they are scattered throughout the country.”

That’s at least partly because there are differences in mail-in response rates among demographic groups. African-Americans and Hispanics respond at lower rates than non-Hispanic white people. Immigrants (particularly the undocumented), people who rent their homes and those living in poverty have been less likely to mail back the form.

Those are also some of the groups that have historically been undercounted. For example, young children — the group most likely to be undercounted – disproportionately live in households with parents who are young, who earn poverty wages, and who are Hispanic or African-American.

The citizenship question could exacerbate the problems of non-response and undercounting. In pre-census focus groups, respondents have expressed concerns that other government agencies will be able to access data related to immigration and that it could harm their residency status (even if they are authorized). Community groups across the country have been educating undocumented immigrants and their families about their rights, encouraging them not to let law enforcement officials into their homes. This could make it more difficult for census workers to access households. It’s not just the undocumented who are at risk of not responding or not showing up on the census. The 23 million non-citizensliving in the U.S. often live with U.S. citizens as well — if the door doesn’t open, citizens are at risk of not showing up in the census, too.

Researchers believe that a resistance to sharing any personal information and the fear that one’s information will not be secure are among the reasons that people don’t respond to the census. Lawmakers themselves, most recently Republicans, have expressed concerns about the broad nature of census questions, calling as recently as this decade to end the American Community Survey — an annual survey also conducted by the Census Bureau that does ask about citizenship status. We don’t know how much public fears and political rhetoric have affected people’s willingness to participate in the census over time, but we do know that when the bureau began spending millions of dollars on advertising campaigns to assuage those concerns (“Your answers are protected by law”), response rates went up.

There’s a tradeoff between privacy and accuracy, said Kenneth Prewitt, who was census director from 1998 to 2001. The more infringement there is on information that people view as private, the less accurate the results will be. And this close to the 2020 survey, it’s likely not only the citizenship question that puts the census at risk, Prewitt said. That the census is now mired in a national political conversation about immigration, as well as various court cases pushing to keep the question off the survey, polarizes it in a way that could hurt response rates.

We don’t know whether the addition of the citizenship question will make the data that the census collects less accurate as a whole, though census workers have heard an alarming increase in concerns around immigration and privacy in focus groups conducted in advance of 2020. We can’t know what the question may do because it hasn’t been tested in a way that follows standard scientific practice, said Terri Ann Lowenthal, who is a former staff director for the U.S. House census oversight subcommittee and now works as a consultant. In surveying, many things can change response rates and the truthfulness of responses, including the order of questions, the wording on instructions and the way it’s laid out visually. The only way to know how well a question will work is by testing it repeatedly, over a number of years, she said.

“It is somewhat puzzling, in my opinion, that Secretary Ross — who is a well-respected businessman — would agree to move forward with something that I’m sure he knows in any other setting, whether scientific or business, wouldn’t pass muster in terms of readiness,” Lowenthal said.

But even though a citizenship question hasn’t been tested for the current census (or in the current political environment), there’s good reason to believe the answers will be inaccurate for those who do fill out the form, at least among non-citizens. According to Ross’s memo, some 30 percent of non-citizen respondents on the American Community Survey are believed to give incorrect responses.

There’s no good way to fix the census if there is a problematic count — we’re stuck with it for a decade. In the late 1990s, the bureau floated plans to use statistical methods to make up for chronic undercounts of groups like kids, renters and certain minority groups. The House sued, and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that because of the way the Census Act is written, statistical sampling can’t be used for apportionment. The census is a one-shot deal.

More than a dozen states are suing to block the citizenship question from appearing on the 2020 census. And civil rights groups say they are holding out hope that Congress, which has jurisdiction over the survey, will intervene.

In the end, as Ross seemed to hint at, the citizenship question is about tradeoffs. It may provide additional information about the number of citizens and non-citizens in the U.S., but only if people respond. Because the question hasn’t been tested, understanding how it will affect the outcome is difficult. But a chorus of experts, including people who have worked at the Census Bureau, say that there’s real cause for concern and that our representation at the federal level is at stake.

via The Census’s New Citizenship Question Could Hurt Communities That Are Already Undercounted | FiveThirtyEight

Citizenship: What the Census Tells Us

Please find below the link to the Policy Options article I did with respect to citizenship and the related deck that I will present later this week at the Metropolis Conference in Calgary (hence will not be blogging for the rest of the week).

What the census tells us about citizenship

This analysis uses Census data to examine naturalization rates with respect to gender, age, education, immigration period and category, labour force status and median income.

The Trump Appointee Behind the Move to Add a Citizenship Question to the Census

Not surprising, someone involved in redistricting (i.e., competitive advantage):

In December, the Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau add a question to the 2020 survey that would ask respondents to reveal whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Since ProPublica first reportedthe DOJ’s letter, civil rights groups and congressional Democrats have announced their opposition, arguing that in the midst of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, the question will lead many people to opt out of the census, resulting in an inaccurate population count.

A lot is at stake. The once-a-decade population count determines how House seats are distributed and helps determine where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent.

But one question regarding the December letter remained unclear. The letter was signed by a career staffer in a division of the DOJ whose main function is handling budget and procurement matters. Who, observers wondered, was actually driving the policy change?

Emails obtained by ProPublica in response to a Freedom of Information Act request provide an answer: The letter was drafted by a Trump political appointee who is best known for his work defending Republican redistricting efforts around the country.

John Gore, who since last summer has been the acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, drafted the original letter to the Census Bureau, the emails show. In one email, Arthur Gary, the career official who signed the letter, noted that it was sent “at the request of leadership, working with John.”

Gore came to the Trump administration from the law firm Jones Day, where he was an appellate specialist best known for defending a range of Republican state redistricting plans that were attacked as racial gerrymandering by opponents. Gore, for example, helped defend a Virginia redistricting that was ultimately thrown out by a court which ruled that the legislators had focused too much on race.

The emails show Gore sending a draft of the census letter to Gary in early November under the subject line, “Close Hold: Draft Letter.” Gary signed and sent the letter the next month and then emailed a note to Gore confirming it was being mailed.

It’s not clear why Gore, who did not respond to a request for comment, didn’t sign the letter himself. The Justice Department press office also did not respond to requests for comment.

ProPublica previously reported that Gore wrote a filing changing the department’s position in litigation challenging Texas’ voter ID law. The Obama-era DOJ had pursued litigation claiming that the Texas statute intentionally discriminated against minority voters; the Trump administration then withdrew the claim. Gore wrote the filing largely by himself but asked career attorneys who’d long been involved in the case to sign it.

A decision on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is expected by the end of the month and will be made by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

Separately, the Trump administration has taken a second step that suggests a philosophical commitment to including citizenship questions as part of the census. It selected as its first political appointee at the Census Bureau a longtime legislative aide to former Sen. David Vitter. The Louisiana Republican made headlines for years by repeatedly introducing controversial proposals for the census to ask about citizenship and immigration status.

Christopher Stanley, who left his job on Capitol Hill late last year, will take one of the Census Bureau’s three politically appointed positions, as the chief of congressional affairs. It’s not clear when Stanley will begin but a spokesman for the Commerce Department confirmed the selection to ProPublica. The position does not require confirmation by the Senate.

Stanley does not appear to have made public statements about the census. But he was Vitter’s legislative aide when the senator introduced a series of measures to change the census that elicited fierce opposition. Stanley worked as an aide to Vitter, first in the House and then in the Senate, for over 15 years, ultimately rising to be the senator’s legislative director.

Before the last census in 2010, Vitter led a legislative effort to get the bureau to add a question about citizenship. It failed. At the time Vitter criticized the system of congressional apportionment for being based on the count of all residents, not just U.S. citizens. “States that have large populations of illegals would be rewarded for that. Other states, including my home state of Louisiana, would be penalized,” he said at the time. The proposal was attacked by civil rights groups.

Vitter tried again in 2014. And in 2016, he introduced another amendment that would have required the census to ask about both citizenship and immigration status.

Since the U.S. Constitution was adopted, the full, once-a-decade census has always inquired about U.S. residents — or “free persons” as the original language put it — rather than citizens. At times in the past, the census inquired about citizenship, but last did so in 1950. The Census Bureau currently asks about citizenship on a much longer survey that goes to a small percentage of U.S. households.

Stanley did not return requests for comment.

Asked if Stanley’s selection signaled anything about the administration’s policy on the census, Department of Commerce spokesman James Rockas said: “We value Mr. Stanley’s many years of Capitol Hill experience. Legislative affairs aides implement policy, they do not decide it.”

Vitter’s stated reason for adding a citizenship question — to change congressional apportionment — contrasts with the December letter from the Department of Justice to the Census Bureau. That letter argues that more data on U.S. citizens is needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Source: The Trump Appointee Behind the Move to Add a Citizenship Question to the Census

Why the 2020 census shouldn’t ask about your citizenship status – Salon.com

One of the more thoughtful pieces, with valid arguments, primarily the lack of question testing and the current political climate (one of the worst decisions of the Harper government was to replace the Census with the voluntary and less accurate National Household Survey in 2011, resulting is less robust data and comparability problems with previous data):

In December 2017, the Department of Justice formally proposed adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This question would ostensibly help to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

I am a social scientist who studies immigration. I have used census data on immigration and citizenship in my research for over two decades, and I have urged government statistical agencies before to collect more data about immigrants. But I don’t think it’s wise to collect citizenship status in the 2020 census. Doing so would not only raise the risk of collecting inaccurate data, but also reduce public confidence in the census itself.

Tracking citizenship

On the one hand, data on citizenship is valuable. In any modern democracy, statistical data is essential for informing policy debates and guiding the implementation of governmental programs. Without it, decisions would almost certainly be too easily shaped by anecdotal evidence and personal biases.

Citizenship data has been used to track political participation and inclusion of immigrant groups. Citizenship is strongly associated with access to public assistance, health care and jobs. Social scientists and policy analysts rely heavily on survey items on citizenship to understand immigrants’ well-being and their impact on host societies.

What’s more, the U.S. Census Bureau has successfully collected confidential information on citizenship status in the past. The citizenship question was first introduced in the 1870 census and was part of all censuses from 1890 through 1950. It was included in the “long” form of the census — administered to 1 in 6 households — as late as 2000. It’s also asked in the American Community Survey, a survey that Census Bureau conducts every year.

Immigrants tend to be willing survey respondents. In a 2010 study, Hispanic immigrants were more likely than U.S.-born Hispanics to agree that the census is good for the Hispanic community. They were also more likely to correctly understand that the census cannot be used to determine whether a person is in the country legally, and that the bureau must keep their responses confidential.

In another study I published in 2014 with two colleagues, James Bachmeier and Frank Bean, we found that nearly all immigrants answered questions about their immigration and documentation status. These response rates are on par with or better than typical survey questions on health or income. Moreover, immigrants’ responses to these questions appeared to be fairly accurate.

Harming the data

However, the political climate surrounding immigration has changed in the last year.

Not all immigrants have been cooperative respondents in the past. Those who are more likely to be undocumented have been undercounted in past censuses and were more likely to incorrectly report themselves as U.S. citizens.

The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy may have increased mistrust among all immigrants, not just those who are undocumented. During focus group interviews conducted by the Census Bureau roughly six months into Trump’s presidency, immigrants appeared anxious and reluctant to cooperate with Census Bureau interviewers. They mentioned fears of deportation, the elimination of DACA, a “Muslim ban” and ICE raids. One respondent walked out when the questionnaire turned to the topic of citizenship, leaving the interviewer alone in his apartment. Respondents even omitted or gave false names on household rosters to avoid “registering” with the Census Bureau. Interviewers remarked that it was much easier to collect data on immigration and citizenship just a few years ago than it is now.

It’s not yet clear whether the fears seen in the focus group interviews are widespread or how such fears would affect response rates if the citizenship question were added to the 2020 census. Additionally, researchers haven’t yet worked out a way to ask the citizenship question so it’s not perceived as threatening.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough time to find out. A finalized questionnaire must be submitted to Congress by the end of March.

What to do in 2020

I served on the Census Advisory Board from 2008 to 2011 and have personally witnessed the time and effort it takes for the Census Bureau to develop questions for the census. Officials must pay meticulous attention to the exact question wording, response categories, ordering and questionnaire layout.

I believe adding a citizenship question without adequate testing could severely reduce participation in the 2020 census among the country’s 44 million immigrants and the additional 32 million U.S.-born people who live with them.

The social and economic consequences of a low response rate for the 2020 census would be severe. Even small errors in coverage could shift the distribution of political power and federal funds, as well as reduce the effectiveness of public health systemsand other government functions.

Perhaps even worse, high coverage error in the 2020 census could undermine the public’s trust in the census as the nation’s source of information on the size, growth and geographic distribution of the U.S. population.

This occurred a century ago, as historian Margo Anderson described in her book, “The American Census.” The 1920 census revealed dramatic shifts in population from rural to urban areas, as large waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants settled predominantly in American cities. Congress, fearing the political ramifications of these changes, rejected the results of the 1920 census and voted not to redistribute the seatsof the House according to the most recent census data. A similar rejection of the results of the 2020 census would likely result in a constitutional crisis today.https://counter.theconversation.com/content/91036/count.gif

Citizenship data would be valuable. But the risks of poor data quality — or the erosion of public trust in the census and other governmental institutions — far outweigh the potential benefits. Given that there are other current data available on citizenship, why take unnecessary risks when the stakes are so high?

via Why the 2020 census shouldn’t ask about your citizenship status – Salon.com

A Citizenship Question on the Census May Be Bad for Your Health – The New York Times

Context matters. While having a citizenship question should be a no brainer, introducing it at a late stage during aggressive ICE immigrant round-ups, and ongoing gerrymandering and other ways to depress non-white voters, make the critiques understandable:

As the Census Bureau finalizes the questions for the 2020 census, key voices in the Trump administration are pressing for surveyors to ask one critical question: Are you a United States citizen?

Advocates of the so-called citizenship question say it is merely clerical, an effort to ascertain how many noncitizens reside in the United States. But the question would have broad ramifications, not only for the politics of redistricting that will emerge from the census but for an issue that goes beyond partisanship: public health.

The fear is that immigrants — even those in the country legally — will not participate in any government-sponsored questionnaire that could expose them, their family members or friends to deportation. But low response rates from any demographic group would undermine the validity of the next decade of health statistics and programs, health experts warn. Scientists use census data to understand the distribution of health conditions across the United States population. In turn, officials use the data to target interventions and distribute federal funding.

“Data is the lifeblood of public health; it needs to be transparent and objective,” said Edward L. Hunter, the former chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Washington office and now the president of the de Beaumont Foundation, which focuses on public health. “The census will have cascading effects upon every rate, every percentage, every trend we monitor over time. It’s very unsettling for people who need to use that data.”

The debate is heating up as a critical deadline approaches: The Census Bureau says it must submit a final list of the 2020 census questions to Congress by March 31.

In a December document first reported by ProPublica, the Department of Justice argued that inquiring about citizenship status in the decennial census was critical to enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects against racial discrimination in voting. Measuring the total number of citizens of voting age in a region is vital to understanding voting rights violations, the department argued.

On Monday, 19 Democratic and independent state attorneys general and one governor, John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado, sent a 10-page letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, arguing that the change to the census could “risk an unconstitutional undercount.” The decennial census has not had a citizenship query since 1950, they said.

And, they argued, “adding a citizenship question at this late date would fatally undermine the accuracy of the 2020 census, harming the states and our residents.”

The Justice Department is standing by its request.

“The Justice Department is committed to free and fair elections for all Americans and has sought reinstatement of the citizenship question on the census to fulfill that commitment,” a Justice Department spokesman, Devin M. O’Malley, said in a statement.

Even without the citizenship question, minorities have been undercounted in the national census, with undocumented immigrants and their legal relatives among the least responsive. Amid a fiery immigration debate — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids nationwide — the inclusion of a citizenship inquiry could make it worse.

“It’s all about trust,” said Mr. Hunter, who earlier in his career oversaw confidentiality policy at the C.D.C.’s National Center for Health Statistics. “The government is legally bound not to reveal the identities of individuals who participate — and yet at a time like this, you would need the individual to believe that.”

When census results are released, scientists often measure the impact of a disease by comparing its prevalence to the total population. With skewed census data, public health officials may invest in solving a problem that does not exist — or worse, may overlook one that does.

“This is completely foundational,” said Michael Fraser, the executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “We take for granted that we have a really accurate understanding of who lives in this country: their ages, ethnicities, where they live.”

Dr. Fraser added, “The bottom line is, if we are handed baseline numbers that aren’t accurate, everything we do for program planning and what we do for implementation will be inadequate.”

via A Citizenship Question on the Census May Be Bad for Your Health – The New York Times