President Trump’s acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Ken Cuccinelli, on Friday seemed to add confusion to the White House’s position on including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, saying it would help “with the burden of those who are not here legally.”
It’s unclear exactly what Cuccinelli meant. The Trump administration’s stated reason for wanting to ask about a person’s citizenship on the 2020 questionnaire has been to get a better sense of the voting population, not to gauge legal status.
But Cuccinelli, appearing on Fox News Business, suggested otherwise.
“Frankly, as part of the ongoing debate over how we deal financially and legally with the burden of those who are not here legally,” Cuccinelli said, listing the justifications for the census question. “That is a relevant issue.”
The census does not ask about an immigrant’s legal status, and on its website the agency has emphasized that by law it does not share information with immigration agents for enforcement purposes.
“The Census Bureau does not collect data on the legal status of the foreign born,” says the website, last updated on May 9.
The Supreme Court last week put the citizenship question on hold, saying the government had provided a “contrived” reason for wanting the information. Trump has asked government lawyers to find a legal path to add the citizenship question anyway.
The census’s goal is to get an accurate head count of everyone in the United States, and officials say that includes undocumented immigrants. States and localities have a high stake in the count because their congressional representation and share of federal dollars for programs such as Medicaid rely on the census.
Homeland Security uses census data to produce estimates of the unauthorized population, but it is not possible to use census data alone to identify which individual households include people in the country illegally.
States with the highest numbers of estimated undocumented immigrants — like California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois — already worry that the citizenship question will have a chilling effect on whether the noncitizens answer the census for fear that the data will be used to target them.