White House Drops Effort to Add Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census
White House Drops Effort to Add Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census

July 2019

Despite a last-minute attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census after the Supreme Court ruled that the rationale for the Commerce Department to add one was “contrived,” the Trump administration, on July 11, officially dropped its efforts to put the question on the census.

In lieu of the question, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to obtain information on citizenship through administrative records. This was one of the options that researchers at the Census Bureau had recommended as an alternative method of compiling information on citizenship.

Under the executive order, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services are to provide the Department of Commerce with access to several sets of records relating to immigration and certain government benefit programs, consistent with the law.

Trump’s announcement eases concerns in the social and behavioral science communities about the cost of adding an untested citizenship question and the potential for an inaccurate count resulting from a lower response level.

In March 2018, the Consortium of Social Science Associations, which was chaired by AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine at the time, issued a statement, noting:

It is simply too late in the cycle to contemplate adding a question to the census. In the decade leading up to a decennial census, the Census Bureau conducts years of rigorous research and testing to ensure that even the smallest changes to design and wording will not impact the accuracy of the responses received. This research and testing phase culminates in the “dry run” of the census, the 2018 End-to-End Census Test, which is being conducted now—without a question on citizenship. Even Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross concluded that his department “is not able to determine definitively how the inclusion of a citizenship question on the decennial census will impact responsiveness.”

In January 2018, AERA joined nearly 170 social science, data, and civil and human rights groups in a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross urging him to reject the Justice Departure’s request for Acting Census Director Ron Jarmin to add a new citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

“Adding a new question on citizenship to the 2020 Census undoubtedly would affect response rates, outreach, and advertising strategies, and other important elements of the nation’s largest, most complex peacetime activity, calling into question the results of many years of costly, painstaking research and testing,” the letter said.