Has a person’s citizenship ever been asked in the United States Census?

Listening to the establishment media, it would appear as if President Donald Trump’s administration is the first in the history of the United States to inquire about one’s citizenship in the census.

Once again, fake news.

Why do we even have a census?

Under the Constitution, once every 10 years the federal government is required to count every person in the country. The data is gathered mainly by sending each household a form to fill out, asking a set of questions about everyone who is living there on a particular date, including their sex, race, age and many other details.  Also (gasp), census workers visit homes and use other legal techniques to try to make the count as complete as possible.

The primary purpose is to determine, based on population, how many seats each state will have in the House of Representatives — and by extension, how many votes there should be in the Electoral College. But census data is used for a great many other purposes as well, including the allocation of nearly a trillion dollars in federal spending each year. That tax-generated cash helps pay for everything from public schools and Medicaid, to law enforcement and highway repairs.  Additionally, state and local governments use the data in similar ways, including setting the boundaries of legislative districts.

In a nutshell, as intrusive as it may seem to some, the census is a big deal and, I contend, if you have nothing to hide why worry?

The Justice Department says it wants the question included in the census because it needs to have a more accurate account of how many Americans are eligible to vote. The Commerce Department says it needs that information to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which bars discrimination against racial or language minority groups in the conduct of elections.

Opponents say the citizenship question is being asked to frighten non-citizens away from participating in the census, whether they are in the country legally or not.  These assailants are also using this issue as another tool to label Trump and his supporters as racist.

Do other countries ask about citizenship in their censuses?  

Yes.  In fact our neighbors to the north and south ask about citizenship in their census questionnaire, and even the ultra-liberal United Nations recommends the practice!

The United States used to directly ask about citizenship as well, but since 1950 the question has not been included in the census forms that most people receive, however, a much longer, more detailed questionnaire is sent to a small sample of households chosen at random and on that survey the citizenship question does appear.

Many in the news media have often referred to 1950 as the last time that the Census Bureau asked all households about U.S. citizenship status, but they are mum on whether the question was asked in prior decades.

Are you a citizen of the United States of America?

The first U.S. census was taken in 1790 and the question was not asked. The first time this question was directly asked of U.S. household members was in 1820 and again in 1830.  There was a 30-year pause, and then the query reappeared in 1870 (but only for those over the age of 21). The question was asked again from 1890-1940.

In 1950, census workers asked about the birthplace of every member of each household. The question on the census worksheet was “What State (or foreign country)” was each person born in? If the answer revealed someone had been born outside the U.S., census workers were instructed to “immediately” ask whether that person was naturalized, which would mean that the person had become a U.S. citizen.  The question was dropped in 1960 and reappeared in 1970 for a randomly chosen 5-percent of the population. in 1980-2000 it was also asked to 1/6th of the population (see the chart produced by my friends at the Center for Immigration Studies).

Unlike how the census was conducted in 1950, the citizenship question that the Trump administration wants to ask next year is old-school and direct: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”  The 2020 question, if it is included on census forms, is intended to collect the citizenship status of every person living in each U.S. household, regardless of birthplace.

The Census Bureau has said that it must begin the immense job of printing census questionnaires by tomorrow (July  8) in order to conduct the 2020 count on time. If that is a firm deadline, it would seem to be all but impossible to resolve the issue in time to conduct the head count with the citizenship question included.

But some experts suggest that the deadline could really be more flexible than that. If so, the Census Bureau may be willing hold off printing the forms past Monday, in the hope that when the courts make a decision, there will still be enough time left to get the printing completed.

Again I say, ask the question.  If one has nothing to hide, what’s the big deal?

Brian Sussman

Reader Interactions


  1. Marylyn Harshman says

    I’ve done a lot of Ancestry work, and the question…where were you born…and have you been naturalized..?….seems to cover the whole matter…..certainly makes it a whole lot easier to find that long lost GgggGrandparent!
    Then the information can be used politically also.

  2. Jael S. says

    You’re exactly right.
    The left is making this out to be a case whereby anyone who wants to ask the citizenship question is a racist, xenophobe, or mean person.
    Thanks for this information!
    Jael S.

  3. Ron Ravetti says

    Further proof the left is not representative of the taxpayers nor, our citizens placing their ideological motivations in deep question. Who would re-elect any of these fools is beyond me.

  4. Carl E Serkland says

    The Constitution, speaks to this in Article I, Section 2, 3rd Paragraph; and Amendment XIV, Section 2, which specifically speaks of citizenship, and Amendments XV (race), XIX (gender), and XXVI (age). Taken in context, citizenship is vital in determining the proper allocation of representation in the House.

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