California sues the Trump Administration over the Addition of Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census

The state of California sued the Trump administration Monday night, arguing that the decision to add a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census violates the U.S. Constitution. The state’s attorney general acted just after the Commerce Department announced the change in a late-night release.

The suit is just the start of what is likely to be a broader battle with enormous political stakes that pits the administration against many Democratic states, which believe that the citizenship question will reduce the response rate for the census and produce undercounts. As a result, opponents say, states with significant immigrant populations stand to lose seats in state legislatures and Congress, along with electoral college votes in presidential elections and federal funding based on census counts. Republicans gained a significant advantage in redrawing maps after the 2010 Census.

You can read more in the many online news web sites. For instance, you can find dozens of articles about this issue by starting at:


After studying census records for a number of immigrant families trying to zero in on when they actually came to the USA, I discovered that in the good old days of the 19th century, when that question was asked, a lot of people just lied, saying they were born here when they weren’t, in some cases even changing their age to make the dates fit. In a couple of cases we’ve actually found birth records for a child of the person’s name back in the old country, no birth records in the US of any subsequent child of the same name, and no record in either country to indicate the first child died. But why did they do it? Probably they originally fudged the facts in order to avoid anti-immigrant prejudice: being bullied in school or discriminated against when it came to applying for a job (“No Irish need apply”) and weren’t willing to take the risk of having the truth leaked out by a census taker or government official through whose hands the census information might be passed. The current atmosphere in America brought back all those old fears.

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From what I read, the Census Bureau is already in deep trouble for the 2020 census because they have not been allocated enough money to collect and analyze the results. On top of this, the addition of a citizenship question raises many valid constitutional issues which will cost the government huge amounts to litigate. All of this together will mean genealogists of the future will be able to put a lot less trust in the 2020 census, as G found while looking for info for 19th c. Irish immigrant families who had good reasons for lying to the census enumerators. It’s pretty obvious what the reasons are for the citizenship question. The Trump Administration was clearly aware of some of these issues, since they announced the addition of the citizenship question in a late-night release.

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    What constitutional questions does it raise? Citizenship questions were included in many earlier censuses, so that precedent is against California. Since California is coming periliously close to open rebellion against the federal government over this sort of issue in other spheres I am also very disinclined to be on their side when it comes to issues of illegal immigrants.


    The Census Bureau is prohibited by law from sharing individual data with any of the law enforcement agencies. There is no reason for anyone not to answer truthfully. There is nothing wrong in the government finding out how many citizens it has and how many non-citizen residents it has.


There is the precedent for the citizenship question! The democrats aren’t telling California’s legal citizens about that. When we live abroad we are NOT eligible to vote or receive welfare benefits in a foreign country! Can someone say “Why was the question terminated in 2000?”
If you know, please share the information. Thank you and Thank you Mr. Eastman for this information today.


On all earlier censuses it asked for place of birth. Later If birth was not in a US state, then it asked for immigration date and, if naturalized, that date. Those questions seem more pervasive than what they want to do in the 2020. California needs to get over it.


The US Constitution is the document that orders a census to be taken every ten years to determine how representatives are apportioned. The same constitution legislators take an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend.” The US Constitution supersedes state law. I see this whole thing as much ado about nothing. This isn’t a matter of Republican-favored gerrymandering. The two-party political system has completely broken down and elected Demopublicans and Republicrats, ALL of whom vote in favor of the Corporate, Big Money, and Warmongering interests that finance their campaigns rather than enact laws that benefit We the People. Heck, they haven’t even given us back our rights since they illegally passed the unconstitutional Patriot Act (renamed USA Freedom Act with the most egregious section 215 of the Patriot Act as its basis when the Patriot Act was finally allowed to expire), MCA ’06, FISA ’08, MCA ’09, and NDAA!

Are genealogists the only people aware of the questions asked on US census forms for over a hundred years? That some form of the questions about a year of immigration, year of naturalization, location of birth of the subject and each parent have been asked about in census data for at least a hundred years? Even in state census data at the turn of the last century (for MN, at least), there’s a question about how long a person has lived in the state (answer given in years and months), and another asks how long in the enumeration district (years and months). Not a “citizenship” question per se, but for individuals or families I’ve researched, my own as well as people who married into my family (of those who didn’t arrive with the Mayflower or within 50 years thereafter), most arrived in the US between 1875-1890 and most didn’t live in another state before their arrival in this state, so by the time enough years had passed for those questions to come up, simple math will give a year of immigration (within a couple of years accuracy; double check with federal census, or, better yet, emigration records from the birth country for an accurate date), and other questions have the location of birth in those same census pages.

I think every employment application I ever filled out had a citizenship question, and far enough back when the Cold War was going on was the question “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?”…, so I don’t understand the kerfluffle over a citizenship question in the US census.


That’s really interesting! It never occurred to me that the citizenship question on the census was anything but a wonderful genealogy resource. I guess I’ve been naive. On the other hand, I’ve been depressingly unsuccessful in locating the naturalization records of some Lithuanian ancestors who claimed citizenship in 1910 and 1920, and also on their 1917 WWI draft registration records. I suspect they lied. I’m OK with that. They were hard-working, model “citizens” who contributed to the U.S.economy and left a legacy they could be proud of.


David Paul Davenport March 28, 2018 at 11:52 am

The US Constitution says nothing about states having a voice in what questions are to be asked on the census. What is does say (in the 14th amendment) is that the rights of citizens are not be abridged on account of race, religion, national original, etc – so it seems to me that if the Blue states want to complain about something they should target the question about race (for example). Identifying the race of an individual should be more problematic than identifying whether a respondent is a citizen or an alien.


I’m troubled by slamming Democratic leaning states. It would be good for commenters to understand the issues on the “other side.” The Constitution mandates a census to count citizens and non-citizens alike. This administration has an animus toward immigrants, legal and not legal. Many, many immigrants, legal or not, will choose to not respond when they can avoid it for fear of being swept up in anti-immigrant fever. This would result in an undercount and affects all kinds of things, like apportionants of federal dollars for roads, bridges, highways, transit, not just voting/representation issues. All the living census bureau heads of both parties are against including the question. The question was last on the census in 1950. References to it being on later censuses are to very small samplings used for statistics—not for the every decade censuses. I don’t know why it was no longer on the decade censuses after 1950.


Does anyone know why the question of citizenship was dropped from the 1960 census and further on? Also, as far as representation in Congress is concerned, are the districts based on the total population OR the total citizens? I’m just asking – I don’t know the answers to these questions.


    Excellent question, Lynne. Since so few members of the administration really have read the Constitution or the law, here’s the exact language from Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Does “free persons” include resident undocumented aliens? Since “documentation” was unknown at the time of the framing of the Constitution, I’d argue yes — not just voting age residents, you’ll notice. At that time, even slaves were 3/5ths of a “Person” so it seems hard to understand how a policy that discourages those who are constitutionally provided for should be discouraged from being part of the census.


    Lynne Reeser – I do not know the real answer, but I will take a wild guess and say that by 1960 the majority of immigrants who arrived in this country ca 1875-1890/1900 as young adults or children were dead by then. Legislators would not have seen immigration as an “issue” for family members born in the US. Certainly, my immigrant ancestors who arrived in 1882, 1883 and 1892 were long since dead by then. They had sailed on immigrant feeder ships; fares were paid from the port of embarkation to the destination. There was a whole industry built around bringing immigrants to America at that time period.


I asked the original question “Why was citizenship question dropped.” One answer I found said it was dropped after the Japanese-Americans repatriation was resolved. I’m a Californian but I and my family have lived and worked in Latin America and in Europe. As foreign nationals in their countries, Americans are not allowed to vote OR collect on their welfare benefits. I do NOT believe foreign nationals in our or ANY other country should be able to do this. If you want those benefits, you should accept the country’s established laws and customs and NOT try to change the country to suit what you left behind. If you check you will find that the Dreamers are a good example. Overwhelmingly, they are adults over 18 and have NEVER bothered to become citizens. This state and about 13 others have high recent history immigrants [during past 20 years at least] and those states have the sanctuary cities and are giving them the power to vote without citizenship! They are protecting those who are NOT citizens over legal citizens and funding them with our tax money before our homeless, Veterans and Seniors–that is wrong. Thus if you don’t live in a democrat-controlled state, you really don’t know what is happening right now in America.


    This doesn’t have anything to do with voting or welfare or any of the other things you mentioned. Focus. This has to do with counting how many people are living in each state. Read the Constitution. “Legal” citizens in 1789? Who was here. Minus slaves and Indians


Lynn — do you think that illegal aliens should have voting representation in congress? As of the last census they have been given at least 5 extra seats in congress because of the illegal aliens living in CA. From a research point of view I feel they should have the citizenship and birth info, its incredibly valuable. They actually still capture all of that information on the annual American census every year. Don’t know what all the fuss is about adding it to the 2020 Census – nothing unconstitutional or illegal about it.


Dick, although I understand how this relates to genealogy,it is truly a controversial issue. I favor all legal immigration, I also favor the right of migrants to adhere to many of the cultural ways of their past. But not to providing cultural services so they can remain an unassimilated group.
The census needs the information so that needed aid can be sent to states to provide ways to assist the migrants to assimilate. There are other questions on the census that annoy me. I was born here, I am a Native American. They ask about income and home ownership, in today’s worl of cyber fraud ,I debate the wisdom of answering.
Please ,Dick cease with the controversial , this was my safe place, I am a snowflake.


    —> Please ,Dick cease with the controversial , this was my safe place, I am a snowflake.

    I will point out that genealogists have used U.S. census records, and especially the information included as answers to various questions on census questionnaires, for more than a century. Census records are amongst the most useful tools we have. Any changes to census questionnaires will have a huge impact on future genealogists. As such, I will suggest that all possible proposed changes to questions on the census records should be front-page news on every genealogy web site.


Very interesting discussion, thank you Dick for this! If you are a genealogist, then the census records are a very valuable source of information. I have been able to find information pertaining to ancestors on both my husband’s (German) side and my side (Irish). German records have been very difficult to find (and especially with an uncommon surname and different spellings) so the census does provide a good indication of when the ancestors migrated to USA and who lived within the families. Very often a particular census would indicate different generations living together at the same address so it was easier to try and follow the trail. Also made it easier searching for immigration years, naturalization information, and where the families lived. I have found the census an invaluable source to my searches. I think that people who don’t do genealogy are clueless about how valuable and important these census records are. Thank you, Dick! Your website is an invaluable source of information for us. 🙂


I think that is an important question.
Look at these questions that have been asked before… seems that asking that question is nothing new.

These questions were asked in 1900
What was the person’s father’s place of birth?
What was the person’s mother’s place of birth?
What year did the person immigrate to the United States?
How many years has the person been in the United States?
Is the person naturalized?

These were asked in 1910
Place of birth of the person
Place of birth of the person’s father
Place of birth of the person’s mother
Year of immigration to the United States
Is the person naturalized or an alien?
Can the person speak English? If not, what language does the person speak?

These were asked in 1920
Year of immigration to the United States
Is the person naturalized or alien?
If naturalized, what was the year of naturalization?
Did the person attend school at any time since September 1, 1919?
Can the person read?
Can the person write?
Person’s place of birth
Person’s mother tongue
Person’s father’s place of birth
Person’s father’s mother tongue
Person’s mother’s place of birth
Person’s mother’s mother tongue
Can the person speak English?

These were asked in 1930
Person’s place of birth
Person’s father’s place of birth
Person’s mother’s place of birth
Year of immigration into the United States
Is the person naturalized or an alien?
Is the person able to speak English?

These were asked in 1940
Person’s place of birth
If foreign born, is the person a citizen?
In what place did the person live on April 1, 1935?
City, town, or village ( For villages with fewer than 2,600 residents, and all unorganized places, enumerators were to enter “R.”)
State or Territory
Person’s father’s birthplace
Person’s mother’s birthplace
Person’s mother or native tongue


In the April 5th published comment within Eastmans Online Genealogy Newsletter the commenter closed his comment with “This is the American story which periodic waves of ignorant xenophobia cannot erase.” I disagree with the writers assessment but respected his point of view until he/she wrote the last line quoted above. Why do people from the left have to resort to combative name calling in every debate on all subjects? The comment also states that “but based on this administration’s disregard for the law” which tells where this writers political bias stands. Under the prior Washington administration laws were totally ignored or the then President made them up. I sincerely hope that in the future this newsletter will to confine itself to genealogy and leave all current political commentary to those blogs


    Agree with Floyd Harper. I sincerely hope that in the future this newsletter will to confine itself to genealogy and leave all current political commentary to those blogs.


    —> I sincerely hope that in the future this newsletter will to confine itself to genealogy and leave all current political commentary to those blogs.

    As we have seen multiple times in recent years, genealogy and politics are often intertwined. In many cases, it is impossible to separate the two. I have two choices: (1.) ignore the issue entirely and not write about it at all (which I feel is a disservice to genealogists) or (2.) write about the issue and encourage an open dialogue amongst all genealogists, asking each person to express his or her opinions and then to make up his or her own mind as to which solution is best.

    I have decided to use choice #2. I am convinced that free and open dialogue amongst all concerned parties creates a stronger, better democracy.


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