Lawmakers spar at hearing over census citizenship question

Lawmakers spar at hearing over census citizenship question
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Lawmakers on Friday debated the Trump administration's plans to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 census during a contentious hearing.

Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingThe Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates Steve King unveils 'Diamond and Silk Act' named for conservative YouTubers MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, opened the panel's hearing, saying the question was essential to correctly apportioning electoral votes and House seats.

"Providing additional representatives for areas of the country with many illegal aliens will leave other parts of the country inhabited by a relatively smaller number of illegal aliens with fewer representatives,” King said.

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The panel's ranking member, Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenJon Stewart excoriates lawmakers for skipping hearing on 9/11 victim fund Jon Stewart excoriates lawmakers for skipping hearing on 9/11 victim fund Democrats begin Mueller hearings with Watergate-era witness MORE (D-Tenn.), though, pushed back.

“This assertion seems like a thinly veiled pretext to exclude immigrants and racial minorities from being counted literally and figuratively,” he said. 

Another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race Freshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race McBath fundraising off 'get back in the kitchen' remarks MORE (Ga.), also raised the issue of voting rights and citizenship.

“Let us be perfectly clear that today, under currently law, it is patently illegal for a noncitizen to vote in a federal election. Period, full stop,” she said.

The committee heard from experts on both sides of the debate and lawmakers regularly traded jabs with each other and with those testifying.

Dr. Steve Murdock, a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, testified on behalf of six previous directors who opposed adding the citizenship question.

He explained that adding any question to the census is a long process and said there is not enough time to ensure the accuracy of results.

“The problem is not so much the item but introducing it into the process where we are,” said Murdock.

In March, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossLobbying World Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question MORE approved a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to add the citizenship question to the 2020 form.

The DOJ says it needs the information for oversight of the Voting Rights Act.

But the plan to include a citizenship question has sparked fierce pushback from Democrats and immigrant rights groups. They have raised concerns that it could decrease participation in the census among immigrants.

At the hearing, though, Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group which backs reduced immigration, pushed back on those claims.

“There is no evidence that reinstating this question on the census would reduce response rates,” Camarota testified. He also noted that the question has appeared on census forms before.

Camarota told King he believed there were nine to 11 House seats and Electoral College votes that could shift after the 2020 census as a result of the immigrant population.

Groups have sued in federal court to stop the question from being added. On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union also brought suit.