The U.S. Census Bureau Will Test a Citizenship Question Ahead of the 2020 Census

Sadly, politics has again reared its ugly head again in the simple act of counting the population of the United States, as required by Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution: “The actual 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.”

Sadly, the simple words of “in such Manner as they shall by Law direct” has been debated by various political groups as to what data is to be collected. I have written before about the latest simple issue: should a U.S. resident be asked about his or her citizenship? You can see my past articles about this issue by starting at:

The simple question about asking about citizenship in the 2020 US Census has resulted in at least six lawsuits.

Now the Census Bureau will move ahead this summer to TEST a citizenship question in a nationwide survey. This is not a final decision on whether or not to include the question in the 2020 census. Instead, the bureau says it wants to find a way to draw the largest number of responses, as well as to prepare its staff, in case the courts decide the question is appropriate for the national census.

You can find many articles describing this issue in detail by starting at:


Nigel Huffingway Smythe February 6, 2019 at 12:03 pm

The census seems, over the years, to have asked about nearly everything (how many slaves you own, your race, your ancestry, age, education, health, housing, water supply, number of toilets, principle fuel used, value of your property, etc). It’s specifically asked people if they were a citizen by birth or by naturalization. So this certainly wouldn’t be the first time citizenship questions were on the federal census.


I disagree Dick. As a longtime genealogist, I would have been thrilled if the census taker asked about the citizenship. Today, there are tens of thousands of illegals – some of which are terrorists (which includes the MS13). It would be excellent to know who, what, where and when in our country! Thankfully I am not an Angel Mom, but I could have been three years ago when an illegal backed up a Value City delivery truck on my daughter’s SUV, and nearly killed her and my granddaughter in the backseat. I think many citizens and legal immigrants want an account.


And of course the word “Simple,” does not apply to any Census wording!


The census are confidential, so it wouldn’t matter. unless Trump, gets his hands on them.


The census is confidential to the public, but not to government officials. It can be used immediately by the government for good or for evil – as the 1940 census was used to locate and intern the many Japanese residents of California! Stating that you are not a citizen does not tell anyone if you are a legal or an illegal immigrant and it certainly does not mean that you are a terrorist or a thug or a criminal! But, unfortunately, there would undoubtedly be those who equate the two!

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Census records are only private in that who may see them before the 72 years time limit. Sure, the data extracted initialy from each census is statistical but there are people authorized (and it has to be people because machines can’t do all the extraction) to look at them and then there or the other authorized uses. Like the military etc in time of war….Sherman used census information. It appears that it was also used in WW II to look at potential enemy aliens. The problems usualy talked about are the fears of various people and groups to be identified in a manner which will be used against them like taxes or various forms of persecution or just “The Government” knowing anything about them. The whole Citizenship vs non-citizenship question (and details about where parents came from and when) have been a part of the Census for a long time. In my opinion, the raging concern now appears to be driven by those (and their supporters for various reaons including politics) who are here illegally. What so much of the rhetoric being spewed out these days manages to ignore the fact that every person counted (and the the adjustments for over/under count errors) is used to construct the Congressional Districts each decade and is the basis for the amound of Federal and other funds given to those districts based on population. There is a difference between the funding and how the numbers and amounts are allocated for infrastructure and governance and things like public safety (police/fire/emergency etc) and funding for the Social programs like Welfare. The question of what is appropirate to be delivered or should be to citizens, those who are in the country legally and those here illegally should be a seperate issue. Unfortunately too many people want the power and revenue stream that comes from pouring all that money to as many people as possible.


    I would like to reinforce what gene32014 said in his post. The primary purpose of the census is and always has been to determine the voting-eligible population for the purpose of possible realignment and/or reassignment of legislative districts within the various states. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives representing the current 50 states, and the loss of even one seat from a state to another state can have serious implications for elections for the following ten years. By counting citizens and non-citizens alike, the alignment of Congressional districts within states or the gain or loss of a Congressional district to or from another state can significantly change the balance of power within the government. The rest of the information on census records is supposed to be for statistical purposes (general information). Occasionally, some of this information has been badly misused by administrations in the past, for example the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. However, the broad inclusion of illegal aliens along with voting-eligible citizens in the census without distinctions can and does negatively impact the viability of our democratic republic.


The only sad thing about this is that it is necessary. We can thank our politicians, of both parties, for this failure to defend our sovereignty.


What is the concern about the census. Every census time a bunch of people decide that they don’t want to cooperate for one reason or another or for no reason at all. Not asking about your citizenship (I’ve been a citizen for at least 8 generations) is not going to have any effect on whether someone trashes your car or takes your property. What is this paranoia about the government? Very few people have been hurt by the government or because of government action. Except some criminals, citizens or not. Most unwarranted attacks on people are by people with citizenship and a machine gun.


In the 1870 U.S. Census, the only reference to citizenship was the question about whether one’s parents were “foreign born”, with a column to put in a tick mark.
The presence of marks in one entry and lack of them in a different one offered the only way I could differentiate between the William Edward Butterfield I was researching and another one born the same year, and in the same county, in Michigan.
Information about the origin of parents in subsequent censuses has helped a number of family researchers I know to make the same kind of differentiation when dealing with two or three “Lisa Jensen/Jenson” entries.
I wish I weren’t so suspicious about the motives for such insistence about the citizenship question. I agree that the answer, whatever it may be, really tells nothing about the character or ambitions of the responder, or his/her plans to become a citizen-or not.


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