The 1950 census was the last one to date that collected citizenship information from the whole U.S. resident population. The 1960 census had no citizenship question per se but queried a sample of respondents about birthplace. From 1970 on, the Census Bureau asked a population sample about citizenship or naturalization status, first as part of the census, then in the American Community Survey (ACS). Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and his staff reportedly asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) if it would request the Census Bureau to collect citizenship data in the 2020 census. DOJ made the request on December 12, 2017. Secretary Ross announced on March 26, 2018, that the 2020 census will ask the ACS question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” The choice of ACS answers is “Yes, born in the United States”; “Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas”; “Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents”; “Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization—Print year of naturalization”; or “No, not a U.S. citizen.” DOJ stated that the census, not a survey with associated sampling error, “is the most appropriate vehicle for collecting” citizenship data “critical to the Department’s enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act” and its “protections against racial discrimination in voting.”
Opponents of the citizenship question have expressed concern that it may depress immigrants’ census response rates or cause them to falsify data, especially if their status in the United States, or that of their friends or families, is illegal. Census Bureau fieldworkers in 2017 noted heightened anxiety about data confidentiality among certain foreign-born respondents and reluctance to answer questions, particularly about citizenship status. Six former bureau directors, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed a January 26, 2018, letter to Secretary Ross, opposing the late-date introduction of an untested citizenship question. Multiple lawsuits were filed to block the question; Judge Jesse Furman, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled on July 26, 2018, that the consolidated suit State of New York et al. vs. U.S. Department of Commerce et al. could proceed.