Should a citizenship question be included in the US Census?


Jessica Vaughan

Franklin resident, Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that favors less immigration.

Jessica Vaughan
Jessica VaughanNancy Andreoletti

Restoring the question about citizenship on the 2020 Census is entirely reasonable. Our government should be able to answer the question, “How many American citizens live in our country?” We don’t have a national database of American citizens, with good reason. But it is important to know how many citizens and non-citizens are here, and the Census is the obvious way to find out.

Until 1950, the decennial Census asked everyone about their citizenship. From 1970 to 2000, the question was asked of every respondent who completed the “long form” version of the census — about one in six households in the nation. It was only in 2010 that this long form was dropped entirely, and the citizenship question with it.


Knowing generally how many citizens and non-citizens we have is important for us to be able to appropriately allocate resources for naturalization services and other programs aimed at helping immigrants become contributing members of our society. It will also help lawmakers and officials at all levels better understand the makeup of our communities.

Equally important, collecting the information will help ensure the integrity of our democracy by helping local election officials properly and fairly administer elections and prevent voter fraud. Knowing how many votes should be cast in local precincts will help get-out-the-vote efforts and detect attempts to rig elections. We should all be in favor of full participation in fair elections and this is one way to ensure that.

Without evidence, activists warn that restoring the citizenship question would reduce Census response rates. This concern can be addressed through robust community outreach explaining that law enforcement agencies have no access to personal Census data, and that an accurate Census makes it easier for our government to meet community needs.


Sadly, those who disagree with President Donald Trump’s policies have so politicized the issue that they are stoking fear that wasn’t there before, thus undermining the effectiveness of those outreach efforts. They seem willing to blow up the Census to make a political point. This is wrong. The citizenship question is not a threat to our democracy, but stifling the collection of important information is.


Tackey Chan

State representative, Quincy Democrat

State Representative Tackey Chan
State Representative Tackey ChanMassachusetts House of Representatives

The US Constitution mandates that every 10 years, the federal government conduct a census to count all the people in the United States. This means everyone can participate, regardless of gender, race, creed, religion, age, wealth, sexual orientation, or citizenship status. Over the centuries, the Census has become a reflection of the people of our nation and a vital tool for government to serve our communities. It is completely confidential — the release of personal Census information to any government agency is against the law.

The Census has a direct impact on all our lives. It determines how many members of Congress each state has. It is used in allocating federal resources to cities and towns. It provides valuable data that helps shape public policy. Census questions should be used for these important functions.

With the debate over whether to require individuals to declare if they are a US citizen on the census, proponents have not adequately explained why this information is necessary. Would it be used in awarding funding? Would it affect immigration laws? Would it create new policies segregating citizens and non-citizens? It is critical to know the real purpose of this change.


More disturbingly, the citizenship question creates a new divide in our nation by establishing the inference that all non-citizens are here illegally. Millions of legal non-citizens live, work, and study in the United States. These individuals rely on public transportation, access city and town services, and become vibrant participants in their neighborhoods. Adding a citizenship question reaffirms a misconception that only citizens are active members of their communities. By discouraging non-citizens from completing the Census, it could also lead to an undercounting of the population in immigrant-rich cities like Quincy, in turn reducing the federal dollars they receive for all residents.

Trust in government is close to historic lows. Congress and the President should not build walls to further challenge our participation as we seek to accurately represent our nation.

I hope federal officials drop this misguided proposal to include a citizenship question on the Census. And I urge everyone to fill out their 2020 census form, regardless of your citizenship status.

This is an inf ormal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.