Letter: The Census Citizenship Question Is a ‘Nonissue’

An interviewer for the U.S. Census Bureau explains that citizenship information is already available through the American Community Survey.

Bryan Snyder / Reuters

A Supreme Court Case That Will Affect Every Aspect of National Life

Today the Supreme Court will hear Department of Commerce v. New York. The case concerns whether next year’s federal census can include a question asking whether each member of a household is a U.S. citizen—something it hasn’t done since 1950.

The outcome, Garrett Epps wrote recently, “will affect virtually every aspect of our national life, from the right to vote to the balance of power in Congress and the Electoral College to the scope of federal educational, health, and welfare programs.”

I work as a bilingual interviewer at the U.S. Census Bureau. One of the surveys I conduct is the American Community Survey (ACS), which includes a variety of questions about people living at randomly selected addresses. One of the questions the ACS asks of all persons residing at an address is whether they are U.S. citizens. (See question No. 8 on page 8 of the sample ACS form.)

Anecdotally, it does not seem to me that noncitizens are reluctant to answer this question. Indeed, after 14 years of interviewing immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere, I can count on one hand the number of noncitizens who have refused to answer this question.

But even if noncitizens were reluctant to answer this question and the decennial census thus produced significantly skewed data, the fact that the question is included on the ACS makes me wonder whether the debate about the citizenship question on the decennial census is, in fact, a nonissue. Those in favor of including the citizenship question do not need to push for its inclusion in the 2020 census, because that information is already available through the ACS. For those opposed to the 2020 citizenship question, it’s a moot point because it’s already being asked—their time would be better spent trying to remove the question from the ACS. Both sides are fighting the wrong battle.

Darian Qureshi
Bilingual Interviewer, U.S. Census Bureau
Tucson, Ariz.