Frenzy over well-reasoned citizenship question in census completely unjustified
© Getty Images

The extreme, over-the-top hysteria in reaction to a question about citizenship on the 2020 U.S. census has sent the idea of reasoned discourse careening over a cliff. 

Reviewing a sample of the outrage, one will find references to fear, intimidation, wild distortions in the census count, and billions of dollars in federal grants at risk. Urban areas will see congressional seats vanish and their populations decrease by millions. It’s yet another raid on immigrant communities! It’s a missile aimed straight at society’s heart!


It’s a giant echo chamber that pays no heed to actual policy considerations, such as the fact that the federal government has an obligation to know how many citizens and how many non-citizens live in the United States.

The American Community Survey (ACS), a smaller version of the census that tracks demographics every year, already has a question about citizenship. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s well-reasoned rationale references the ACS question and even provides data on non-response rates. Yes, that’s right: there is already public data on response rates to citizenship questions in census-sponsored surveys, but you probably didn’t read about it in any of the news stories or any of the press releases because it’s not in line with the doomsday narrative.

From 2013 to 2016, about the same number of Hispanics (12.3 percent) didn’t respond to an ACS question on citizenship as didn’t respond to a question on income (13.4 percent).

According to the crazy logic of the doomsdayers, then, the 2020 U.S. census should not ask Hispanics about their income, and to do so would be a colossal war on cities and immigrants.

Just as tellingly, not a single reaction that I’ve seen – in press releases, Facebook comments, or news coverage – addresses the fact that a 2014 academic analysis already studied this question and reached a fairly definitive conclusion: “the introduction of legal status questions does not appear to have an appreciable ‘chilling effect’ on the subsequent survey participation of unauthorized immigrant respondents.” In other words, questions about citizenship don’t impact survey results – a conclusion in line with the Department of Commerce numbers.

The researchers go even further, recommending that “future data collection efforts should include questions about legal status in order to (a) improve models of immigrant incorporation and (b) better position assimilation research to inform policy discussions.”

No, the authors of the study weren’t created in a petri dish at a Koch Brothers factory. One researcher is listed on the “authors and staff” page of the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank. All three are professors at reputable universities.

This really gets to the heart of the matter: in today’s public discourse, facts and context take a back-seat to supercharged political rhetoric. The activists and politicians ignore the truth and instead inflame divisions for their own political ends. Ironically, the same groups that constantly attack Republicans for ignoring facts are now themselves burying their heads in the sand about the data on citizenship questions.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE won the election, in part, because people were sick of the constant pandering to identity politics and knew he would not succumb to the Pavlovian-like outrage activated anytime a politician dared propose common-sense solutions to our nation's failed immigration policies.

If the whole point of a federal census is to gain important information to help inform policy decisions, then knowing how many citizens and non-citizens live in the United States is not only common-sense, it's good policy.

While the president's detractors may scream loudly with the microphone of the mainstream media, there are millions of us – myself included – who think this is a no-brainer and welcome the president's refreshing willingness to break some eggs in order to make an omelet.

Donovan represents New York’s 11th District and is a member of the Homeland Security Committee.