The man who ran the 2000 census for the Clinton administration predicted Friday that more than 24 million people may refuse to take part in the 2020 count now that the survey is going to ask about citizenship status.
Robert Shapiro, who was under secretary at the Commerce Department during the 2000 count, called the decision to ask about citizenship “dangerous.”
He predicted 6.8 million illegal immigrants will duck the count altogether, as would about half of the 8.8 million legal residents who live in a household with an illegal immigrant present. The other half, he said, will likely lie and claim the illegal immigrants are citizens, further distorting the count.
Mr. Shapiro said millions of others — such as those who have bungled their student loan payments — would also be wary of filling out the census accurately, for fear the government might track them down.
The stark warning came days after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the Census Bureau will reinstate a question about citizenship on the full 2020 count. It had been a part of decennial counts in the last century, and is part of a number of other census surveys still — but wasn’t part of the count sent to every household in 2010.
The Justice Department had asked for the question to be added back in so it would have better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act. One former official said there are potential cases they cannot pursue because they don’t have good enough data.
But Mr. Shapiro, in a piece for the Brookings Institution, said the fact that the Justice Department was involved in the request will scare people. Even though the census is not allowed to share individuals’ answers with law enforcement, he said there will still be people who don’t believe that.
“Ross and [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions explicitly tied the collection of 2020 Census information to federal law enforcement. That’s what makes his directive so remarkable and so dangerous,” Mr. Shapiro wrote.
He said the 24.3 million people who’d be scared away by the citizenship question are in addition to the “normal undercount” that occurs in every census. The government believes it missed 1.5 percent of black residents in 2010, he said.
Mr. Shapiro said the losses could cost immigrant-heavy states such as California and Texas seats in Congress, while poor states that rely heavily on government assistance programs such as Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia would suffer the loss of funding.