- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2018

A proposed question regarding citizenship on the 2020 census generated a remarkable amount of online feedback, with much of it negative comments copied and pasted from opposing group’s suggestions, the Commerce Department said Friday.

The comment period on the Federal Register closed Aug. 7, and officials said Friday they had collected more than 147,000, “an incredibly high number,” according to a department spokesperson.

Most of the comments were negative, although a breakdown on that score was not provided. Of that total, some 85 percent were deemed “duplications or very similar,” suggesting that campaigns opposed to the question were successful.

The left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, asked people to “help us flood” the Register’s comment stream.

“It will trigger further mistrust in immigrant communities already living in fear because of President Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric and aggressive enforcement actions,” the SPLC wrote at its website. “This is simply a bad idea — one driven by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

The SPLC did not respond to questions about the comments and its activity.

The group’s arguments dovetail with others advanced by opponents, who say including the question will make some recipients reluctant to respond and consequently make the count less reliable.

Another objection from some commenters went to the proposed breakdown of Asian-American nationalities, with many people urging the census to simply have one box for “Asian-American.”

Congress uses census data for the apportionment of House seats and the distribution of billions in federal aid to education, roads and other public projects. Illegal immigrants are not allowed to vote, however, and thus their numbers, in theory, would be irrelevant to representation in the House.

The administration has said the question, which used to be asked routinely in the decennial census-taking, was added at the request of the Justice Department, which argues more precision in the numbers of legal residents will help it fine-tune its approach to voting rights cases. Recent reports have cast doubt on that timeline, with emails appearing to show administration figures outside the Justice Department were anxious to have the citizenship question put back on the forms.

The comments now go to the Office of Management and Budget, and the package sent to OMB “will include a response that addresses comments that were received,” the Census Bureau said, although no further information about that response was provided.

At this point, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision in March to include a query about citizenship is final, officials said, barring congressional action or federal courts intervening.

Census takers will fan out and begin their work on April 1, 2020, according to the Commerce Department.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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