The Trump administration wants the census to resume asking every household in the country about citizenship. The administration’s question does not ask about legal residence. Federal law forbids agencies from using census date for immigration law enforcement. The Trump administration’s proposed question asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” That’s it. It’s a question that puts Trump squarely in Thomas Jefferson’s corner and in the mainstream of American history. In fact, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a continuous look at the U.S. population, always asks about citizenship.
So why is a nation asking about citizenship on its census, for the purposes of both representation in government and taxation as the Constitution mandates, even controversial? Democrats say that it could lead to undercounting some minority populations. That’s speculative. After Obama dropped the long questionnaire in 2010, minority counts did not change one way or the other.
But the real purpose of failing to ask about citizenship may be to undercount and under-represent citizens and give states that attract more non-citizens more House representation than they are due. Failing to ask about citizenship may also make enforcement of voter fraud more difficult, by making counts less accurate.