One of the biggest confusions about this year’s decennial census is whether or not the census asks individuals about their citizenship status. When this issue appears, some will point to the American Community Survey, an on-going Census questionnaire sent to individuals within the United States. According to the Census Bureau website, the ACS acts as the following:
- is an on-going survey
- is sent to a sample of the population
- tells us what the population looks like and how it lives
- helps communities determine where to locate services and allocate resources
The ACS is comprehensive and asks further questions beyond the decennial census (including citizenship), but the questionnaire is not counted towards Congressional apportionment.
This means the data received from the decennial ultimately decides how many Congressional districts should exist based on responses. Certain states that have more illegal immigrants than others may stand to gain more representation. This is where lawmakers in both parties will start debating.
The decennial Census, on the other hand, is clearly described on the Census website as affecting Congressional apportionment:
“Census information affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The 2010 decennial is considered to be “one of the shortest forms in history,” asking simply ten questions, none of which includes an inquiry about one’s citizenship.
Back in November, Senate Republicans put forth a failed effort to block Democrats from excluding the citizenship question on the decennial census. Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, who proposed the plan along with Senator Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, told press the Commerce Department, which the census is part of, did not provide the needed information behind the $1 billion dollar cost, claimed by Commerce, that it would take to change the decennial census to include a citizenship question.
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham defended his position on controversial immigration reform to the Washington Times on Thursday, claiming a comprehensive immigration reform plan would do away with the issues surrounding the decennial census’ exclusion of the citizenship question.
“Well I just think this is another example of why our immigration policy is broken and doesn’t work. Looks like that would be one reason alone to reform it. We got a census, and you don’t know who to count…one of the reasons you don’t know who to count is you can’t control who is coming here,” he said.
“Comprehensive immigration reform would help the country in a lot of areas. It would help the census be more accurate. It would help control jobs. It would help our national security. It’s just another example of why you’d want to do it.”
The Census Bureau spokesman explained to the Washington Times that the ACS often coincides with the decennial census, so many mistakenly believe the ACS is simply another part of the decennial, and confirmed that the ACS has nothing to do with Congressional representation.
Sorry, folks. When the Democrats and Republicans go toe to toe over the issue of including a citizenship question on the decennial census, there is likely a real reason behind it, like how many seats could be added or deleted in the House. And the American Community survey has nothing to do with that.