On Monday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced his decision to add a controversial question on citizenship to the 2020 census came in the face of opposition from career officials at the Census Bureau who fear it will depress response rates, especially from immigrants. Wilbur Ross Overruled Career Officials at Census Bureau to Add Citizenship Question:
It would be the first time since 1950 that the full, once-a-decade census asks people about their citizenship. The Constitution requires a count of all residents of the country every ten years. The Census Bureau conducts a separate detailed survey of a sample of U.S. households that includes questions about citizenship.
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In a memo announcing his decision, Ross said that “The Census Bureau and many stakeholders expressed concern that [a citizenship question] would negatively impact the response rate for non-citizens.”
But Ross added that “neither the Census Bureau nor the concerned stakeholders could document that the response rate would in fact decline materially.”
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A Commerce spokesman said that Ross “took a hard look” at an alternative proposal by the Census Bureau to get citizenship data without adding the question. But he ultimately decided the proposed method “would provide an incomplete picture.” The Ross memo argues that the value of the data collected from the new question will outweigh any harm.
ProPublica first reported in December that the Justice Department had submitted a last-minute request that the Census Bureau add a question on citizenship to the 2020 survey. The Justice Department argued that better data on citizens was needed to better enforce voting rights protections for minority groups.
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The driving force behind the request for the new question, according to internal emails, was a Justice Department political appointee, John Gore, who spent years as an attorney in private practice defending GOP redistricting maps around the country.