The 2020 Census Will Be Heading Your Way—With or Without That Citizenship Question

The U.S. Census Bureau is on schedule to start the 2020 count and is prepared for either outcome of the Supreme Court’s looming decision on whether the Constitution lets the Trump administration add a question asking whether people are American citizens.

Test surveys to gauge whether there’s an aversion to the citizenship question and help gauge Census staffing needs are already being mailed out, with half of those 480,000 questionnaires including the contested query and the rest omitting it, Albert E. Fontenot Jr., associate director for decennial census programs, told reporters Monday in Washington. Justices are scheduled to hear arguments on April 23 and will rule by the end of June.

“We have film that will be prepared for our printer for either decision,” Fontenot said. “When the July 1 deadline comes, for us, we say run film A or run film B. For either one, it does not delay our plans at all.” He added that the electronic count will also be equipped with a switch that includes or excludes the citizenship question.

A census undercount in areas with large numbers of non-citizens could shift congressional districts and federal dollars away from those communities. The dual-track preparations allow the Census Bureau to sidestep, for now, any logistical complications from the political and legal showdown over the 2020 census — either way the decision comes down.

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Earlier Monday, President Trump criticized Democrats who are questioning his push to add a citizenship question, saying such a report “would be meaningless” and a waste of funds.

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, who took office in January, said at the same event Monday that the 2020 count is on schedule and on budget. He declined to comment when asked about Trump’s tweet.

Dillingham also declined to comment at his Senate confirmation hearing in October when Montana Republican Steve Daines asked if he supported including the citizenship question.

“I have no plans to voice an opinion,” Dillingham said at the time. “It will be determined by the courts, and it would be my responsibility, if confirmed, to administer the decennial census in accordance and consistent with that judicial decision, so it would be problematic I think to take a public position on that question.”

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