The Citizenship Question

Questions about whether those without citizenship in the United States deserve the same treatment from government officials - whether they be legal residents, green card holders, or undocumented people - have become flashpoints in ideas about economic policymaking and public jurisdiction. There has been intense back and forth over the inclusion of the “citizenship question” on the 2020 census. The question would simply entail the following: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” While President Trump has backed away from his efforts to institute a citizenship question on the Census, the debate on whether the question should be placed on the Census has continued to ignite impassioned responses across the political spectrum. Most of the opposition to the inclusion of the question has been due to the fact that Thomas B. Hoefeller, Republican political strategist, recommended that Trump utilize the citizenship question for the purpose of increasing the degree to which gerrymandered districts would benefit the GOP. Considering the numerous political and economic effects adding the citizenship question to the Census could have, it is necessary to examine the origin and history of the Census and the arguments for and against such a measure.

History of the Citizenship Question

The constitution mandates the counting of the entire population of the United States in Article 1, Section 2. Specifically, it states:

[An] Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

This enumeration includes all people living in the United States and does not mention any specific provisions of people to be counted - other than that which was eliminated after the passage of the fourteenth amendment in regards to the naturalization of African- Americans- and the citizenship of Indigenous People - similarly eliminated after a 1940 Supreme Court Case. Since the Constitution mandates the counting of the entire American population, it follows that the goal of any Census should be to count every person residing in the United States.

After the abolition of slavery, there was a citizenship question that was to be voluntarily filled out by those who were born outside of the United States until 1950. Additionally, some longer forms of the Census in circulation since 1950 included the question but did not require the participant to answer the question.