The Constitution requires the federal government to conduct an “actual enumeration” every 10 years primarily because, as the Constitution also says, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective Numbers.” This month is the deadline for finalizing plans for the 2020 census.
The U.S. census has always included all residents, including both legal and illegal immigrants who are not U.S. citizens, and even slaves when slavery was legal. But how many residents are citizens has also been counted throughout U.S. history, as far back as the fourth U.S. census in 1820.
Until 1950, all respondents were asked to report whether each person being counted was a U.S. citizen. From 1960 to 2000, the citizenship question was demoted to the “long form” census questionnaire that went only to 1 in 6 households, and from then it was only included in the American Community Survey which samples merely 3.5 million households.
As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross explained in his decision, a sample of just 1 in 6 households is not accurate enough to determine how many citizens are living in small election districts. To obtain numbers accurate down to the level of small census blocks, which are required to enforce the federal Voting Rights Act, every person who is a U.S. citizen must be counted (in addition to every resident who is not a citizen).
Liberals claim that the citizenship question will discourage illegal residents from responding, thereby undercounting them. Even worse, in the critics’ view, is how this might result in a reduction of taxpayer funding that doles out massive benefits to the illegal population.
Secretary Ross anticipated these objections, pointing out in his 8-page statement that on the contrary, there’s plenty of evidence that the citizenship question has no effect on response rates.
Perhaps opponents of Trump should take solace in how he isn’t ordering a census like the one used by the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. The Roman census required everyone to return to their home city to be counted, and today that rule would have the bonus effect of deporting many millions of illegal aliens.