Time is running out to speak out against citizenship question on census

The last Census was in 2010. The 2020 U.S. Census is to add a question about citizenship status.
The last Census was in 2010. The 2020 U.S. Census is to add a question about citizenship status. AP file

Between now and Aug. 7, the U.S. Census Bureau is accepting public comments on Census 2020. We encourage the public to express dissent on including a citizenship question, which the Trump administration wants to use to further its anti-immigrant agenda.


The Census Bureau faces at least six lawsuits challenging the citizenship question, which has not been part of the census for 70 years. The conflicting justifications of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross highlight what scholars have consistently shown: Bureaucrats commonly present the census as objective and politics-free. It is not. Politics shape census policy.

From our own research, we find that the census is inherently political and too often reinforces an unequal status quo. In this instance, the Trump administration is using the census in its crusade against immigrants. The stakes are particularly high for California, with its large foreign-born population.

The citizenship question will increase the undercount of marginalized groups, an estimated 24.3 million people nationwide. It will deter documented, undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families from completing the census. They have well-grounded fears of surveillance and deportation.

The Trump administration has argued that the citizenship question is to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act, but this motivation is difficult to believe. Trump’s own pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, supports voting ID laws that disenfranchise many minority voters. The administration has implemented numerous policies that target and marginalize working-class Latino, black and Muslim immigrants, including its militarized border agenda, detention and separation of undocumented families and passage of a travel ban.

An undercount in Census 2020 will decrease federal funding and political representation in states with higher-than-average immigrant populations, including California, but also Arizona, Nevada, Florida, New York and Texas.

We are among the 3,000 demographers who are members of The Population Association of America and who have asked the Trump administration to reverse its decision. We have little faith that the collected citizenship data will be protected or used for altruistic purposes.

We urge all members of the public to write the Commerce Department before Aug. 7 to say “no” to the citizenship question. To help create a more representative democracy, we must speak out against this major change in census policy.

Orly Clerge is a professor at the University of California, Davis and can be contacted at Trina Vithayathil is a professor at Providence College in Rhode Island and can be contacted at