Though it usually doesn't ask about a person's citizenship status, the Justice Department asked the agency late previous year to include the question.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Rossmade the announcement via a letter to Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Karen Dunn Kelley that was posted to the department's website. The group called the inclusion of a citizenship question "a clear attempt to politicize the process", and warned it would discourage minority communities from participating.
"This decision comes at a time when we have seen xenophobic and anti-immigrant policy positions from this administration", said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
"Citizenship questions have also been included on prior decennial censuses.
Rather than preserve civil rights, as the Justice Department claims, a question on citizenship in the decennial census would very likely hinder a full and accurate accounting of this nation's population".
"On December 12, 2017, DOJ requested that the Census Bureau reinstate a citizenship question on the decennial census to provide census block level citizenship voting age population (CVAP) data that is not now available from government surveys", officials said.
Census researchers have said immigrants they interviewed spontaneously raised topics like the travel ban and the dissolution of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that has protected from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a longtime leader among House Democrats on oversight of the Census Bureau, introduced a similar measure in the House.
The Commerce Department has reinstated a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a move some argue can be counterproductive to getting accurate counts of who lives in the United States.
"Importantly, the Department's review found that limited empirical evidence exists about whether adding a citizenship question would decrease response rates materially".
The decennial census, which is mandated in the Constitution, is relied upon for a myriad of important government decisions, including apportionment of Congressional seats and allocation of federal funds.
Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat from NY, was frustrated last week when she received what she described as incomplete answers from Ross about the Census questionnaire during a House Appropriations subcomittee hearing.
Minnis and other opponents say adding the question is unnecessary and will lead to an inaccurate count because some people may be afraid to fill out the form.
"Secretary Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government goal outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts", officials said.
"The citizenship data provided to DOJ will be more accurate with the question than without it, which is of greater importance than any adverse effect that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond", Ross wrote.
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