Commerce lawyer, Census director will brief House members on citizenship question

PHOTO: In the file photo, a married couple fill out their 2010 U.S. Census form at the kitchen table of their south Austin home in 2010. PlayRobert Daemmrich/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE
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The general counsel from the Department of Commerce and the acting director of the Census will brief members of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on April 11 about the controversial inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

It will not be open press, according to a committee aide.

The briefing was referenced in a letter Democrats on the panel sent to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ron Jarmin, the acting director of the Census Bureau, on Wednesday requesting documentation from them on any concerns regarding the participation rate in the census and to address what the impact would be on the cost of the census.

Ever since Ross announced his March 26 decision to include the citizenship question on the census, Democrats, civil rights groups, and others have expressed concern that non-citizens would not participate, causing an undercount of the population that would particularly affect urban areas, which is where immigrants tend to live.

Ross, in his announcement, conceded officials don’t know the impact of the citizenship question on participation but argues the additional data collected is worth the answer.

PHOTO: Page 11 of the Questions Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce includes the question, Is this person a citizen of the United States?U.S. Department of Commerce
Page 11 of the "Questions Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey" issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce includes the question, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

“The Department of Commerce is not able to determine definitively how inclusion of a citizenship question on the decennial census will impact responsiveness,” Ross wrote in a memo on the decision.

In the letter obtained by ABC News, the committee's Democrats asked for documentation on four topic areas from the department before an agency attorney, briefs committee members on April 11: relating to “any concerns expressed by the Census Bureau” regarding the inclusion of the question; “all analyses, including drafts,” that could impact response rates; “all communications” inside or outside the department “regarding the addition of the citizenship question,” and “all documents, communications, and analyses relating to the cost increases that could result from the addition of a citizenship question.”

ABC News reported on Tuesday that staff in the Census Bureau warned last fall the responses they received in focus groups and pre-testing for the census indicated an increased fear among immigrants that the information they volunteered would be used against them and their families.

Additionally, several states have filed suit against the Commerce Department for the inclusion of the citizenship question.

The 2020 Census questions were formally submitted to Congress last Thursday.

The citizenship question appears on Page 11 of the submitted document, which was obtained by ABC News, and is the second question on the census form (the first question asks a respondent’s age).

“Is this person a citizen of the United States,” the question reads.

Under each question, the department provides a justification for its inclusion.

In their justification for this question, the department writes a “person’s citizenship is used to create statistics about citizen and noncitizen populations” that are “essential for enforcing the Voting Rights Act and its protections against voting discrimination.”

Editor's note: This article incorrectly stated that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will brief members of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on April 11. An agency attorney will brief committee members on that date.

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