WASHINGTON: The US government announced Monday that it would reintroduce a question about citizenship status in the questionnaire for the 2020 census.
This is a very sensitive issue in the era of President Donald Trump, who has made cracking down on legal and illegal immigration one of his hallmarks.
The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, said the question will be added at the request of the Justice Department in order to help determine possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.
That law, however, is aimed at prohibiting racial discrimination at the polls while the census tally is used to determine the number of seats alloted to each state in the House of Representatives.
Only US citizens are allowed to register to vote. But Trump has long claimed that millions of illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 presidential election, without providing proof.
The last time a question about citizenship was included in the census questionnaire, which currently covers about 3.5 million people, was 1950.
Critics fear that asking people if they are US citizens could discourage some minorities from taking part in the census, out of fear the information will be used against them, and thus undermine the accuracy of the tally.
They say that even immigrants with legal residency status may be reluctant to take part if they have ties to people who do not have papers.
The population tally affects distribution of more than $675 billion in annual federal funding for schools, hospitals, roads and other public services, according to the Census Bureau.
Underreporting in some communities is a longstanding problem. Analysts estimate that the 2010 Census undercounted Latinos by 775,000 people.
The problem could be worse this time.
If minority populations, often concentrated in Democratic-leaning urban centers, do not fully participate, this could affect the balance of power in Congress.
In 2010, the Census counted 308.8 million people, an increase of 9.7 percent from 2000. According to the latest estimates, the US population has since risen 5.8 percent to 327 million.