Opinion: 2020 U.S. Census to Feature Controversial Citizenship Question

The 2020 U.S. Census will include a question about citizenship, for good reason. The U.S. Constitution requires an “actual enumeration” every 10 years. It is vital that this enumeration is a fair and accurate count of the total U.S. population, including the number of citizens and noncitizens. The question of citizenship in the 2020 Census will help with this objective by allowing the government to collect more accurate information about the people living in the country.

Since the announcement that the citizenship question is returning to the census since its removal in 2010, there has been a cry of outrage from many political leaders. According to a CNBC article regarding the census, Democrats, in particular, say the inclusion of the question will ostracize immigrants (especially those who are in the country illegally) and may discourage them from participating in the census at all. They claim this will lead to underrepresentation and inaccuracies. This speculation seems to make the citizenship question on the census into a much larger monster than it is intended to be.

The secretary of the commerce department, Wilber Ross, said the 2020 census form will use the same wording that is already used in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which presents respondents with five categories that may describe their citizenship status. Three of the categories apply to people who are U.S. citizens at birth. The fourth pertains to naturalized citizens. The fifth category is for noncitizens. This category does not ask whether a person is in this country legally or illegally.

Additionally, there are ways to deal with missing responses to the citizenship question. The Census Bureau has already filled in missing data about people in past censuses using a technique called imputation.

“In carrying out imputation, the bureau applies what it knows about the size and type of neighboring households to fill in the number of people, or their characteristics, at the addresses with missing data. Imputation procedures have grown more sophisticated over the decades,” Pew Research Center said in an article.

According to the Census Bureau, 1,163,463 people were added in 2010 to the household population through count imputation (this amounted to 0.39 percent of the total count imputation).

Some people are also worried that the new citizenship question could sabotage many states that have large immigrant populations. What some people may not realize is that the Census Bureau already asks more than 3.5 million households across the country every year about their citizenship through the American Community Survey.

“The ACS is a nationwide survey that collects and produces information on social, economic, housing and demographic characteristics about our nation’s population every year. This information provides an important tool for communities to use to see how they are changing,” the United States Census Bureau said in an article about the ACS.

However, the ACS itself is not wholly adequate for collecting completely accurate information about the American people. The ACS is only distributed to 1 in 38 U.S. households each year. By putting a question about citizenship in the census, the U.S. will be able to receive information from the entire population, not just a small chunk of it.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s mission is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy. The U.S. Census is designed to give the most accurate picture possible of the American possible. Therefore, more information is always better.

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