Attorney General Curtis Hill has joined a multistate legal brief supporting plans by the federal government to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. The brief was filed in opposition to a lawsuit by 17 other states against the U.S. Department of Commerce, of which the U.S. Census Bureau is part.
Amid other legal complaints, the suing states claim that asking census respondents whether they are citizens denies equal protection by discriminating against racial minorities. Attorneys general of the suing states have described the citizenship question as a tool for intimidating states that welcome immigrants. Such objections amount to baseless rhetoric, Attorney General Hill said.
“The federal government is well within its rightful authority to ask census respondents whether they are citizens,” Attorney General Hill said. “In fact, a negative response does not necessarily mean that the respondent is here illegally. Those with work or student visas are not U.S. citizens but are here lawfully.”
Further, the Census Bureau is statutorily prohibited from sharing any data in which an individual can be identified, Attorney General Hill noted. Individual responses are considered confidential under the law, withheld even from law enforcement. The value of the census instead lies in the bulk data it provides to policymakers and the public.
Regardless of individuals’ varying perspectives on immigration policy, Attorney General Hill said, Americans across the political spectrum should be able to achieve consensus supporting the basic value of collecting demographic information on U.S. residents.
“Crafting practical solutions to the millions of illegal immigrants already here,” Attorney General Hill said, “does not require that we abandon the collection of data points, such as citizenship status, that can aid us in developing critical solutions to our many pressing problems.”
As part of their complaint, the suing states have attempted to depose U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and other officials. The brief joined by Indiana opposes such tactics as intrusive depositions of government officials that, if allowed to stand, would encourage increased and unnecessary litigation burdens for state and federal officials.
The Census Bureau included a citizenship question on its “long form” questionnaire from 1970 until the 2010 census. With the discontinuance of this practice in 2010, state legislators have faced the prospect of depending on the less reliable American Community Survey (ACS) for information regarding citizenship.