Should the 2020 census include a citizenship question?

The Trump administration has proposed to add a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census. Proponents of the question believe it will help the government collect better data, while opponents believe the question will cause a drastic undercount of the population.


As the deadline for the 2020 census approaches, the government is gearing up to conduct its decennial headcount of the U.S. population. The addition of a citizenship question to the census has stirred up much controversy, as many see this as another move by President Trump and his administration to suppress the rights of immigrants and minorities.

It is important for the government to know the citizenship status of a certain population for a variety of reasons. One way the government can use this citizenship data is to draw district lines for Congressional districts. Since only citizens can vote, having an accurate number of citizens in an area allows the government to better draw district lines.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has further cited the question as a way to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Currently, the Justice Department, uses the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which only covers 2.6 percent of the population. Implementing this question will expand the amount of people covered and therefore enable the Justice Department to better protect the voting rights of Americans, especially minorities.

According to the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), “robust citizenship data is necessary to determine if redistricting maps properly protect minority voters.”  This will help curb a practice known as gerrymandering, where state legislatures draw districts to favor their own party, a practice that has been widely criticized for suppressing minority voters. PILF notes how in one situation, citizenship data allowed the Department of Justice to differentiate eligible African-American voters from Caribbean noncitizens in a redistricting case. An accurate assessment of the number of voters serves only to enhance and increase the rights of minorities.      

Opponents of this policy also refer to the harms of an “undercount”, which is based on the fear that those residing the in the U.S. illegally will not fill out the form. However, they fail to understand that this is not a policy to exclude or include anyone on the basis of citizenship; it simply inquires about an individual’s citizenship status, not about the legal status of non-citizens. The census citizenship question will ensure accurate political representation for everyone—including minorities.