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2020 Census will include question on U.S. citizenship

A lot can change in 70 years.

2020 will be the first time since 1950 that the government wants to know if you are a U.S. citizen.

The census goes out every ten years and helps the federal government determine how many Congress members each state gets, and how much money is given to specific communities.

Road to the 2020 Census: Three Years Until Census Day [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

The main concern we’ve heard? People worry this could skew the numbers.

We reached out to some attorneys for answers.

“I am not sure if a person is allowed to just skip a question on the census and if doing so will invalidate them from being counted,” Attorney Indera Demine told us in an e-mail. “However, my initial instinct is to skip this question.”

Immigration Attorney Mitchell Cohen said he thinks it’s against the law for any Census Bureau to disclose or publish information that identifies an individual. Confidentiality protections are supposed to apply to interagency community as well.

Under the law, he said, Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not have the legal right to access that information. Violating confidentiality is a federal crime with penalties that can include a prison sentence up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Cohen wrote to us in an e-mail:

“…the immigrant community is justifiably on edge due to the anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration. Plus, the general knowledge that data can be compromised may make people hesitant to participate.

I believe however that the citizenship question is important to have on the census form.  For example, on the 2000 census, citizenship information was collected, and used by the Department of Justice to enforce the Voting Rights Act.”

However, Immigration Attorney Indera DeMine said the risk is too high.

“You’re basically alerting the government to where every immigrant is,” DeMine said. “Oh yes this person in my lifestyle is not a U.S citizen and of course the government says it’s just for informational purposes they aren’t using it for anything else. But who is to say that information is not going to be used for removal and deportation enforcement.”

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