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White House Uses Executive Privilege for Census Question Inquiry

June 12, 2019

“Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

With the 2020 census looming and the issue of a new question on citizenship to be added, the Trump Administration is blocking Congress’ access to background documents about how the new question came to be with executive privilege. The assertion of executive privilege comes just prior to a House Oversight and Reform Committee vote to recommend holding Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross in contempt of Congress.

Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross have previously refused to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into how the new question came to be added to the census.

The vote has been postponed until the afternoon of Wednesday, June 12. Committee chairman Representative Elijah E. Cummings, D-MD, said: “we must protect the integrity of the census, and we will stand up for Congress’ authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight.”

The citizenship question is already included in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey which goes to approximately 2% of U.S. residents. In the 2017 ACS, about 1 in 12 Hispanics did not answer the citizenship question, a non-response rate much higher than that of white people. Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy estimates that the inclusion of the citizenship question could mean an undercounting of approximately 6 million Hispanics or 12% of the Hispanic population in the U.S.

What’s the Possible Impact of a Citizenship Question?

The Trump Administration says the citizenship question is intended to help enforce voting rights laws. Proponents say an underreporting in the 2020 Census, the data from which is used exclusively to draw political districts, could change the number of congressional seats in some states, starting with the 2022 elections, and the federal funding for those states.