Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives to prohibit the U.S. Census Bureau from asking questions regarding citizenship, nationality and immigration status in the 2020 census on March 13.
Including the citizenship question on the census will not help enforce civil rights laws, which have been enforced without this information, Norton said. The citizenship question will only cause response rates, especially among minority communities, to decline, compromising the accuracy of the census, according to Norton.
“Since the all-important questions of congressional apportionment and federal funding rely on an accurate census, we must do everything we can to ensure this unnecessary and harmful question is not allowed to drive down response rates to the 2020 Census,” Norton said in the news release.
The citizenship question, which asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” was approved by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau. The addition of the question has raised objections from opponents who argue because it might cause an underreporting of population count because minority groups may interpret the question as an effort to target immigrants without documentation.
The Census Bureau estimated that the addition of a citizenship question would cause an estimated 630,000 households to not complete the 2020 census, according to a Jan. 19 memo.
The bill was introduced shortly before a March 14 hearing in which Ross was questioned on his motivations for including the citizenship questions. Before adding the question, Ross learned that the Justice Department had requested that the question be reinstated in December 2017 to help enforce the Voting Rights Amendment, Ross said at the hearing. During the hearing, Republicans said that the census has asked citizenship questions in the past, although these have been located on supplemental forms, according to NBC News.
Ross is facing accusations of giving misleading statements about the reason for requesting the inclusion of the citizenship question. Ross alleged the request was at the behest of the Justice Department, but Ross himself may have requested the question, according to a March 13 news release by Norton’s office.
A federal judge ruled March 6 that Ross broke several laws and violated the enumeration clause of the Constitution, which requires the U.S. government to conduct a census every 10 years to determine a state’s representation in the House of Representatives, according to The Washington Post.
The ruling comes after 18 states, nine cities and Washington, D.C. sued the Commerce Department over concerns that including the citizenship question in the census will decrease its accuracy, affecting congressional funding and representation. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 census on Jan. 15.
The Institution for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, a group based at the Georgetown University Law Center, filed an amicus brief on the behalf of the House of Representatives on Feb. 11. The brief claims that the citizenship question would undermine the accuracy of the census, according to Joshua Geltzer, ICAP executive director and visiting Georgetown law professor.
“Adding it would thwart the constitutionally mandated goal of the decennial census, which is to determine an actual and accurate count of everyone present in the United States,” Geltzer wrote in a February email to The Hoya.
A bill similar to Norton’s, the Every Person Counts Act, was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Jan. 24. The bill would prohibit information regarding citizenship or immigration status from being asked in any census. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where it awaits further action.
Norton introduced a similar bill on Jan. 30, 2018, which was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform but has received no further action.