Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’ decision Monday to add a controversial question on citizenship to the 2020 census came in the face of opposition from career officials at the Census Bureau who fear it will depress response rates, especially from immigrants.
Two people with knowledge of the deliberations said career leaders in the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, had scrambled to come up with alternatives to adding the question. Those efforts were unsuccessful.
In a memo announcing his decision, Ross said that “The Census Bureau and many stakeholders expressed concern that [a citizenship question] would negatively impact the response rate for non-citizens.”
But Ross added that “neither the Census Bureau nor the concerned stakeholders could document that the response rate would in fact decline materially.”
The Census Bureau recently noted greater fear and reluctance to fill out the survey in the current political climate. In a November presentation, a bureau official cited a recent increase in respondents expressing concerns about confidentiality of data related to immigration. It cited particular concerns among participants in what it labeled an Arabic focus group and among Spanish-speaking respondents.