In a controversial move, the Department of Commerce announced Monday that the 2020 Census will include a citizenship question.
Commerce says in a press release issued Monday night that the citizenship data will help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights.
The question will ask whether a person participating in the census is a United States citizen, which would be the first time since 1950 that such a question will be asked. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said he is now working with the New York Attorney General’s office on a multi-state lawsuit to preserve a “fair and accurate census.”
“The purpose of the Census is to count each and every person residing in the United States to determine congressional representation, funding for federal programs and policy-making decisions. Its purpose is not to determine an individual’s citizenship status. In fact, asking the question will only serve to discourage individuals from responding,” Kilmartin said.
Kilmartin is also concerned about Rhode Island losing a proportion of federal funds because of the possibility of the state losing congressional representation. According to the census population estimates made public from last year, if Rhode Island has 157 fewer people counted during the 2020 Census, the state will lose a seat in the House of Representatives.
“It is important for everybody who believes in our democracy to be speaking up and saying anything that excludes a population from being counted in the census, will not work for our democracy,” Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University Gabriela Domenzain said.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday that Providence and its surrounding communities have been chosen for a trial run of the 2020 Census. Domenzain said the question will cause quite the stir in Providence.
“First of all, the only trial run of the census will be conducted in Providence in April,” Domenzain said. “The only lessons learned, you could say, from the government officially will be gleaned from Providence. On the macro level, asking a citizenship question in a state where one out of five immigrants are undocumented will have a chilling effect.”