A Senate Republican introduced legislation Wednesday requiring that a citizenship question be included on the decennial census.
“This is America,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the sponsor, said in a statement announcing the bill. “We are a sovereign nation. It’s absurd that we don’t know how many citizens and non-citizens are living in this country. That’s why I’m introducing this bill to require a citizenship question on the census.”
The Trump administration has already sought to add the question to the 2020 census, in move that has already been blocked by three courts. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to allow it to stay on the upcoming census.
Daines’ own bill doesn’t stand much chance of being passed into law, given that the Democratic-led House of Representatives is opposing the move to add the question in court.
When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has oversight over the census, was considering adding the question, the Census Bureau warned that it would be costly, due to the drop in participation in would prompt on the census, and could harm the accuracy of the survey.
Nonetheless, Ross added the citizenship question, offering a policy justification that the three courts have found to be pretextual. Internal documents released in the case revealed that Ross’ aides shopped around for a reason to include it, after the secretary had already made up his mind that it should be added.
It’s unclear exactly why Ross wanted the question on the census, but other Republicans have said they’d like to use the data to exclude noncitizens from the count used to draw legislative districts.
In a brief interview with TPM Thursday, Daines said, “One of the problems that we face in our country today is we don’t have the most accurate data in terms of how many non-U.S. citizens are in this country. It’s time we find it out.”
Asked if it should be added for Voting Rights Act enforcement (Ross’ stated justification) or for redistricting, Daines said: “For everything.”
“It’s very important that we know within each state, each community, how many total people there are, and how many of those individuals are American citizens,” he said.
Experts, including those at the Census Bureau itself, have said asking the question on the census will harm its accuracy by spooking immigrant communities from participating on the survey. An undercount of those populations would shift political representation and government funding away from them.
The Census Bureau has offered to assemble citizenship data from administrative records — i.e. the records maintained across the government that include citizenship information — for the Trump administration’s stated purpose of needing the data, for Justice Department Voting Rights Act enforcement. That data would be more accurate than what would be obtained by asking it on the census, and would avoid additional harm to the survey, the Census Bureau said.
Because a count of the total U.S. population is required by the constitution, two courts have ruled a citizenship question unconstitutional for the harm it would do to the accuracy of the total enumeration.
Asked about the criticisms that it would harm the accuracy of the total count, Daines said, “If you’re here legally, you have nothing to hide.”