U.S. census to inquire about citizenship for the first time

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A new move by the Trump Administration has the next U.S. census questionnaire inquiring about citizenship for the first time since 1950.

The national census began in 1790. The first time people were asked about their citizenship was in 1820 under the phrasing, “Are you a non-naturalized foreigner?” A decade later the wording was changed to “non-naturalized white foreigner.” The wording of citizenship questioning fluctuated from 1820 until 1950 when it was taken out completely until now. Is it necessary to ask that question?

“The Constitution enabled us to conduct an annual census, but the purpose was to count every person residing in the United States, not every citizen residing,” ASU Asian Pacific American Studies Professor Wei Li says. “The census actually collects this information for two main reasons: congressional redistricting and appropriation for federal funding.”

Li says it’s more beneficial for a census to be mandatory than voluntary. Canada provides a prime example: after changing their census from a mandatory duty to a voluntary one, they didn’t get the results they were hoping for.

While the addition of the new question may raise some eyebrows, Li says it’s not intended to track down specific individuals. By not answering the questionnaire, you may be taking federal money away from your district.

“One of the major concerns is people just not participating in the census,” Li says. “We really need to count every single person. In part because the census is not just for congressional redistricting, but also about the federal dollar. If a lot of people don’t answer census questions then they lose a lot of federal dollars.”

TED SIMONS: THE NEXT U.S. CENSUS QUESTIONAIRE WILL ASK ABOUT CITIZENSHIP. IT'S THE FIRST-TIME SUCH A QUESTION'S BEEN INCLUDED SINCE 1950. THE MOVE BY THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IS RAISING CONCERNS ABOUT CENSUS PARTICIPATION AND CORRESPONDING EFFECTS ON FEDERAL FUNDS AND CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATION TIED TO THE COUNT. HERE TO TELL US MORE IS ASU PROFESSOR WEI LEE, WHO SERVED AS THE US CENSUS BUREAU'S ASIAN ADVISOR FROM 2003-2012. NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN. THANKS FOR JOINING US.

PROFESSOR WEI LEE: THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME AGAIN.

TED SIMONS: YOU BET. PRIOR TO 1950, WORD LIKE NATIONALIST, FOREIGN BORN, THEY WERE INCLUDED ON THE CENSUS BUT NOT AFTER 1950. NOW THE IDEA IS TO PUT THIS BACK ON HERE. WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?

PROFESSOR WEI LEE: THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. OUR NATIONAL CENSUS STARTED FROM 1790. 1820 WAS THE FIRST TIME THE QUESTION ASKED HOW MANY FOREIGNERS NOT NATURALIZED, BUT NOT HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE FOREIGNERS. IT'S AN INTERESTING QUESTION, AFTERWARDS FROM 1820 TO 1950, VARIETY OF WORDING WERE USED, INCLUDING 1830, THE NUMBER OF WHITE PERSONS WHO ARE FOREIGNER NOT NATURALIZED, SO THAT REFLECTS OUR COUNTRY'S RACIAL HISTORY AND POPULATION CHANGE AS WELL. WHEN YOU ASK ABOUT WHY IT'S STOPPED IN 1950, WE HAVE TO LOOK AT HISTORY TO SEE WHY THE QUESTION WAS STOP ASKED. I THINK PRIMARY REASON IS THE CONSTITUTION ENABLED THE COUNTRY TO CONDUCT THE ANNUAL CENSUS, BUT THE PRINCIPLE IS TO COUNT EVERY PERSON RESIDING IN THE UNITED STATES, NOT EVERY CITIZEN RESIDING IN THE UNITED STATES. THE CENSUS ACTUALLY SELECTS THE INFORMATION TWO PURPOSES, ONE FOR REDISTRICTING. THAT REFLECTS DEMOCRACY. MOST OTHER COUNTRIES CONDUCT CENSUS TO COLLECT TAX. OUR COUNTRY COLLECTS THE DATA FOR CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING AND APPROPRIATION OF FEDERAL FUNDING. THAT'S TWO IMPORTANT ROLES REGARDLESS OF WHAT QUESTION IS ASKED, BY 1954 TITLE 13 DID SAY THAT THE CONGRESS IS NOT DICTATING WHAT KIND OF QUESTION TO ASK SINCE THE BUREAU WOULD DECIDE WHAT QUESTION TO ASK, BUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DECADE, THE BUREAU NEED TO TEST THE QUESTIONNAIRES AND BY THE EIGHTH YEAR OF EVERY DECADE, THEY NEED TO CONDUCT END TO END CENSUS TEXT IN THREE COUNTRIES, RHODE ISLAND, WASHINGTON AND WEST VIRGINIA. THE LAST-MINUTE THROW IN A NEW QUESTION WITHOUT FULLY TESTING, WITHOUT CONSULTATION, COULD HAVE DETRIMENTAL IMPACT.

TED SIMONS: TALK ABOUT ARIZONA'S POPULATION, WE HAVE A GRAPHIC TO SHOW HOW MUCH GROWTH WE HAVE HAD HERE IN ARIZONA. THE 7% INCREASE IN MARICOPA COUNTY AND NAVAJO COUNTY 5%, THAT'S IMPORTANT FOR SOCIAL SERVICES, INFRASTRUCTURE, AND THE CONCERN IS HAVING THE QUESTION THERE, THERE WILL BE FOLKS THAT WON'T PARTICIPATE IN THE CENSUS?

PROFESSOR WEI LEE: CORRECT. THAT'S ONE OF THE MAJOR CONFIRMS. THE GRAPH SHOWS THE URBAN STATE AND NAVAJO COUNTY, THERE HAVE BEEN POPULATION INCREASE IN THE PAST SIX-SEVEN YEARS. THE RATIO DEMOGRAPHIC COMPOSITION ALSO CHANGE. WHAT WE WANT TO DO TO FULFILL CENSUS BUREAU IS COUNT EVERYONE ONCE IN A RIGHT PLACE. THESE ARE THE CENSUS MODEL WE NEED TO DO. WE CLEARLY NEED TO COUNT EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN OUR STATE IN OUR COUNTY, AND OUR RURAL AND URBAN AREA IN PART BECAUSE THE CENSUS COUNT, AGAIN LIKE YOU SAID, NOT JUST FOR CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING BUT THE FEDERAL DOLLAR, THIS ROUND IS ABOUT $6 TRILLION, FEDERAL DOLLARS TO BE APPROPRIATED TO LOCAL STATE IN TERMS OF EDUCATION. THE EARLY CYCLE TALKS ABOUT IMPACT OF FUNDING FOR EDUCATION. WE ARE AWARE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ISSUE. ALSO RELATED TO INFRASTRUCTURE AND SOCIAL SERVICES. IF A LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE DON'T ANSWER QUESTIONS, WE LOSE FEDERAL DOLLARS, SO EVERY ONE OF US STAND TO LOSE. THERE IS AN INTERNATIONAL PRECEDENCE. 2010 THE GOVERNMENT IN CANADA DECIDED UNILATERALLY DECIDED AND HAD THIS TOP DOWN DIRECTIVE SAYING, OKAY, 2011 CANADIAN CENSUS, LONG FORM LETS NOT DO MANDATORY, THE NORMAL, LETS DO IT VOLUNTARY. WHOEVER DON'T WANT TO ANSWER, THEY DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER. THE CHIEF CANADIAN DIRECTOR BUREAU RESIGNED IN PROTEST. THE LONG FORM CENSUS THAT YEAR IN CANADA WERE DEEMED BY EXPERTS AS NOT ACCURATE, BELOW NATIONAL LEVEL. WE HERE IN ARIZONA, WE ARE BELOW NATIONAL LEVELS, LARGE NUMBER OF OUR CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS DON'T ANSWER CENSUS FORMS, THEN EVERY ONE OF US STANDS TO LOSE DOLLARS.

TED SIMONS: WE HAVE 30 SECONDS. VERY QUICKLY HERE, YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION ON THE CENSUS? YOU CAN LEAVE IT BLANK?

PROFESSOR WEI LEE: THERE ARE FOLKS THAT DECIDED TO DO THAT, BUT THE SITUATION, IN CASE IT BECOMES POLITICAL AND IN FUTURE SOME POLITICAL PARTY WOULD DECIDE THIS IS THE NUMBER OF VOTERS YOUR STATE HAS, WE HAVE TO LOSE. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

TED SIMONS: THANKS FOR JOINING US. WE APPRECIATE IT.

PROFESSOR WEI LEE: IT'S A PLEASURE.

TED SIMONS: TOMORROW ON ARIZONA HORIZON IT'S A SPECIAL EDITION OF THE JOURNALISTS' ROUNDTABLE. WE'LL TALK TO ARIZONA REPUBLIC COLUMNISTS TO GET THEIR OPINIONS ON TODAY'S TEACHER WALK-OUT AND WHERE THE DEBATE OVER EDUCATION FUNDING GOES FROM HERE. AND WE'LL DISCUSS THE CLOSER-THAN-EXPECTED RESULTS OF THIS WEEK'S SPECIAL ELECTION IN CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT-8. THAT'S FRIDAY, AS THE JOURNALISTS' ROUNDTABLE GETS OPINIONATED.

TED SIMONS: THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANKS FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Wei Li: ASU Asian Pacific American Studies Professor

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