The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested that the Census Bureau include a question in the upcoming 2020 Census about citizenship status, which critics believe will inhibit the collection of accurate data, especially in a climate where immigrants are ever-fearful of even interacting with the federal government.
The request was made in a December 12 letter, obtained by ProPublica, from DOJ General Counsel Arthur Gary to head of the Census Bureau, acting director Ron Jarmin.
The census has not included questions about immigration since 1950, when the question was written as “If foreign born, is the person naturalized?”
What such a question would look like is not discussed in the letter, and the DOJ and the Trump administration did not respond to ProPublica‘s request for comment. But, in the letter, the DOJ claims that enhanced citizenship data will protect “against racial discrimination in voting” by allowing the department to better enforce a provision of the Voting Rights Act that seeks to prevent minority voting dilution through redistricting.
But, Arturo Vargas, a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Census and the executive director of Latino advocacy group, NALEO Educational Fund, called the request “a recipe for sabotaging the census.”
“When you start adding last-minute questions that are not tested — how will the public understand the question? How much will it suppress response rates?” Vargas told ProPublica.
And, as ProPublica writes, new questions are typically field-tested for years before actually making it into the questionnaire.
The power to determine questions rests with Trump-appointed Wilbur Ross, secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau. Questions must be submitted to Congress in April, two years before the census in 2020.
Though even the suggestion of such a question does not bode well for the immigrant community, the Census Bureau states it is bound by law to “strict confidentiality requirements.”
“Individual records are not shared with anyone, including federal agencies and law enforcement entities,” its website states.