Pennsylvania among 17 states suing feds over citizenship questions planned for 2020 Census

Written by Emily Previti, Keystone Crossroads Reporter | Apr 4, 2018 6:25 AM

FILE PHOTO: In this March 15, 2010, file photo, copies of the 2010 Census forms in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and 16 other state AG's, plus mayors of multiple major cities including Philadelphia, are listed as part of a lawsuit filed Tuesday over naturalization and citizenship questions proposed for the 2020 Census.

The Census Bureau does already ask about citizenship in the American Community Survey, which targets a small fraction of the households captured by the decennial census.

The lawsuit argues past questions were asked in "a different political climate, before anti-immigrant attitudes were as salient and consequential" as they are now, citing "unprecedented anxiety" in immigrant communities, including interviewees specifically stating fears about deportation, documented by the Census Bureau itself during testing last year - when citizens questions weren't even involved.   

That's another issue raised by the case: the questions haven't gone through the testing typically required prior to inclusion on the decennial census.

The lawsuit also cites the American Statistical Association's opposition to including the questions, lest they deter enough respondents to compromise the validity of the census. Low participation also could lead to unwarranted cuts to federal funding in jurisdictions where the population is undercounted.

Past attempts to expand the reach of citizenship questions have been met by similar concerns about triggering "hostility, resentment and refusal to cooperate", according to the case.

Since1970, citizenship questions have been limited the relatively small percentage of households (between 2.5 and 17 percent, depending on when we're talking about) receiving American Community Survey and, before that, the "long form" Census versus the 80-percent plus receiving the standard Census questionnaire (without naturalization questions).

As Snopes put it in their explainer on the subject: "It won't be the first time people are required to divulge their citizenship status on a U.S. census form, but it will be the first time since 1950 that everyone is required to do so."

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