Census Bureau adviser on citizenship question: 'What the hell?'

One of the experts who advises the U.S. Census Bureau responded during a meeting to the news that the agency would add a citizenship question to the 2020 census by asking: "What the hell?"

D. Sunshine Hillygus, a professor at Duke University who serves on the Census Scientific Advisory Committee, opened a presentation at the panel's spring meeting on Thursday by making it clear that she thought including such a question was a bad idea.

"I want to say in no uncertain terms I think this is an absolutely awful decision," she said. "I am still dumbfounded that this decision is coming in at such a late date. My view is that this is going to have severe negative implications for data quality and costs."

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Her comments, which were first highlighted by HuffPost, came days after Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOn The Money: Turkey in crisis as lira hits new low | Watchdog calls for Wilbur Ross stock probe | CBO downgrades growth projection for 2018 Watchdog accuses Wilbur Ross of violating conflict of interest laws, calls for probe into finances FCC commissioner: US in 'great shape' in 5G network race with China, other countries MORE announced plans to include a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census — a question that has been in some bureau surveys in recent years but not in the primary decennial census since 1950.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Hillygus warned that including such a question has "negative implications for data quality and cost" and could damage the Census Bureau's reputation.

She warned that "perceptions matter" and that including the citizenship question would be viewed strictly as a political decision, and would fuel the perception that such information could be used to target noncitizens.

"Because it is viewed as a strictly political decision, I think it doesn't matter how much the Census Bureau says we will keep your data confidential," she said.

Civil rights groups and Democrats have fiercely opposed the decision to include the citizenship question in the 2020 census, arguing that it would lead to incomplete and inaccurate data that could impact congressional districts and the allocation of federal funding.