U.S. census to inquire about citizenship for the first time
April 26, 2018
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.”