Our citizenship is not the census’s business

Introducing the citizenship question to the census would lead to systematic fear through generations of immigrant communities, which would negatively impact the way our nation governs for decades.

With the 2020 census looming, the Supreme Court has to decide whether to allow the Trump administration’s plan to add the citizenship question. This citizenship question should not be confused with a prior citizenship question, which last appeared in the census survey sent to 100% of U.S. households in 1950.

Beginning in 1970 through the 2000s, the American Community Survey — a supplement to the census sent to 1 of every 38 households — has asked about citizenship.

The potential 2020 citizenship question asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”; the 1950 version asked, “If foreign-born — Is he naturalized?” It was found that during World War II, the census information, while confidential, was used by the government to identify Japanese Americans who were illegally detained and put into internment camps. While the wording between the two versions is different, gathering citizenship data is not the point of the census.

An argument against the addition of the citizenship question by adversaries is premised on the fact that the Census Bureau can relay its findings to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, so that they can track down noncitizens and deport them. However, this view is incorrect.

Federal law mandates that the Census Bureau is, in fact, banned from sharing information reported on the census with other federal agencies. Due to this incorrect assumption, individuals who are not citizens may feel inclined to report inaccurately, which brings up an issue with the census at large: self-report bias.

The American Psychological Association says self-report bias occurs when “people may not give answers that are fully correct, either because they do not know the full answer or because they seek to make a good impression.” In this case, the “good impression” is one’s citizenship.

This notion is extremely relevant to states with large populations of noncitizens — the noncitizen population may not respond to the census because they may not want to exploit their noncitizenship, causing the data to be skewed so it is not an accurate representation of the area’s true population.

The census transcends the notion that it’s just a head count of the people in the U.S. Actually, it determines the allocation of congressional representation and federal funds, proving that an accurate census is imperative for our government to properly serve its people. According to a Harvard study, adding the citizenship question may deter an accurate census.

According to the study regarding the citizenship question, its implementation may “reduce the share of Hispanics recorded by the Census by approximately 4.2 million,” equivalent to 8.4% of the Hispanic population recorded in the 2010 census.

With the stigma against the government that’s apparent among immigrant communities, adding the citizenship question may worsen any fear they may have that the government isn’t acting in their favor. And since the government’s purpose is to serve its people, adding the citizenship question would inhibit the government from acting for its people.

If people are not informed about this issue, they won’t be able to create a legitimate opinion or reasoning to add or abandon the citizenship question. Be sure to stay informed on the news and talk about it with your friends, coworkers and family. This may force people who once didn’t have an opinion to be an active member of our democracy. This may even lead to people reaching out to their representatives, imploring them to take a stance on the issue.

So, the citizenship question would inhibit accurate reporting because it would suppress the contribution by noncitizens in the census. It’s clear to see that the inclusion of the citizenship question as a standard question on the census holds dire consequences.

Trump has claimed that the census would be “meaningless” without the citizenship question. But what’s the point of gathering the information if there’s not much you can actually do with it? Trump can’t even use the collected information to deport noncitizens, so why would the census be meaningless without it? The implications that the addition of the citizenship question has aren’t meaningless but actually consequential.

The census requires accurate reporting, and in order for this to occur, the citizenship question shouldn’t be added. And while there’s no way to truly see the repercussions of the citizenship question until the census is completed — implying the question gets approved — the fact is, that adding it will inflame the fears that immigrant communities have toward the government.