Census Bureau focus groups find Americans fear citizenship question

January 24, 2019

Members of key minority communities are convinced the government wants to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census in order to find and deport illegal immigrants, according to a new Census Bureau report that shows the hurdles the administration faces.

Spanish-speakers and women from the Middle East and North African were the most resistant to the question, saying in focus groups that it would be a major deterrent to them taking part in the 2020 count.

Their fears are unfounded, the government says the information is kept secret at the Census Bureau and being a noncitizen does not mean someone is eligible for automatic deportation.

Yet a media frenzy surrounding the decision to include the question on the 2020 count has created a narrative that appears to have gained traction.

“Most participants across all audiences said they believe the purpose of the citizenship question is to deport undocumented people, and, for that reason, they think most undocumented immigrants will not participate in the census,” the bureau said in its new report.

“Citizens reported what they believed would be the reaction of undocumented immigrants namely, that they would either skip the question or ignore the form entirely. Many stated that they would not complete the census, despite being citizens themselves, if people in their household did not have U.S. citizenship,” the bureau added.

A federal judge earlier this month blocked the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 count. The judge ruled the government had cut too many corners, violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

The judge ruled that perhaps 5 percent of people would refuse to take part in the census because of the question.

The Trump administration has said it will appeal that ruling and ask the Supreme Court to take the case directly, skipping over the usual path of an intermediate appeals court.

The new report will likely be another hurdle to those efforts.

The Census Bureau conducted focus groups with a number of demographic groups, including people who speak Spanish at home, people with Chinese or Vietnamese heritage, people with low internet proficiency, people who identify as black or African American, and other categories.

While some respondents said they figured the census already asked about citizenship, attitudes were overwhelmingly negative.

“I wouldn’t answer it because ICE is working with a lot of different groups on deportation sweeps and stuff, and I guess it would make me feel like I’m aiding in that,” one woman from the Middle East-North Africa focus group said.

Another woman said she feared the question in light of the president’s travel ban policy, which she said “banned my whole country.”

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