How Would a Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census Affect California?

June 24, 2019 Updated: June 24, 2019

The answer on whether Trump administration can ask residents across the country their citizenship status on the 2020 census is expected to be decided by the Supreme Court by the end of June. The question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” has not been included in the census since 1950. Since then, citizenship data has been gathered by small samples of households nationwide.

California is known to have the largest number of illegal aliens of any state. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2.4 and 2.5 million illegal immigrants reside in the state, which amounts to more than 6 percent of the population.

The Migration Policy Institute places the number at a much higher 3.06 million, with 68 percent or 2.09 million from Mexico alone. Excluding these individuals from the census could have major effects on California’s congressional delegation.

California currently has 53 seats in the House of Representatives, which are determined by population. Since the state has the largest population in the United States at 39.5 million, it has the largest congressional delegation.

Of the 53 seats, 46 are held by Democrats, while Republicans only hold 7. California also holds the highest number of Electoral College votes, at 55. Both house seats and electoral votes would likely decrease as a result of the citizenship question being added.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, has argued that adding a question pertaining citizenship would allow the department to collect detailed data to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act protection against voter discrimination. Ross told Congress that the citizenship question was requested by the Department of Justice.

Some judges and legal analysts have argued that the question was politically motivated and designed to limit the power of immigrant communities that typically vote Democrat, according to CALmatters. Meanwhile, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that courts should not meddle with the Commerce Department’s decision regarding the census.

Last year, California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, sued the Trump administration over its decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census. The state’s lawsuit argues that in addition to being unconstitutional, it’s a violation of Administrative Procedure Act, prohibiting “arbitrary and capricious” actions.

The Attorney General has stated that the move is unlawful and could impede efforts to achieve an accurate population count. The lower population as a result of the citizenship question is expected to potentially result in the state receiving lower federal funding.

However, according to the Minority Staff Report from the Committee on Oversight and Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives, published in April (pdf), “Democrats are playing to fear, alleging that immigrant households will not respond to the census if it includes a question on their citizenship. They make these arguments in spite of testimony from John Abowd, the Census Bureau’s chief scientist, that ‘there is no credible quantitative evidence that the addition of the citizenship question will affect the accuracy of the count.'”

Other groups disagreed.

“We think Californians will be less likely to fully answer the form if this question is included,” said Sarah Bohn, director of research and a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco, to CALmatters. “If there’s a bad count overall and immigrant communities are undercounted, it would be entirely possible for us to lose a seat in Congress.”

The census question is expected to affect millions of people nationwide. In April, the Supreme Court heard arguments in U.S. Department of Commerce vs. New York. Based on the justices’ questions, it appeared as if the court’s conservative leaning majority may rule in favor of the administration’s citizenship question, according to analysis by CALmatters.