American Morning

Should 2010 census ask, 'Are you a US citizen?'

By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

Ten. That’s the number of questions you’ll be asked when the 2010 census forms arrive in mail boxes starting next April.

Question 1: “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?”

From there, questions 2 through 10 range from a person’s sex and race to phone number.

But nowhere is this question asked: “Are you a U.S. citizen?”

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and others are asking, why not? Vitter is pushing an amendment to a Senate spending bill that would put the citizenship question on the next census form. The Bureau of the Census hasn’t asked that question before. So, why now?

Senator Vitter told Carol Costello that it’s all about apportionment, which is the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives based on the number of people counted in each state by the census. It’s right there in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

“…Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years…”

For Senator Vitter, who represents Louisiana in the U.S. Senate, this is personal. “If all people,” the senator says, “including non-citizens, including illegals, go into the process of reapportionment, Louisiana will lose one House seat.”

One challenge for Senator Vitter and his supporters is that the Constitution goes onto say, in Article 14, that the government must “…count(ing) the whole number of persons in each state….”

“It’s certainly an open legal issue what the constitution requires,” Senator Vitter says, “…whether it takes a statute to change it or a constitutional amendment, we’ll deal with that legality later. But…shouldn’t it be a consensus that reapportionment should count citizens and should not factor in non citizens?”

And then, at least for the 2010 census, there would be the matter of the logistics and cost of reprinting millions of census forms.

Robert Groves, the Director the U.S. Census Bureau, says it could cost in the “hundreds of millions of dollars” to add that single question about citizenship. Groves also says that he has deadline dates to meet, including the April 1 mailing of the forms. “We can’t meet that deadline with a change to the questionnaire.”

Senator Vitter says it’s “ironic” that the census is talking about cost when it’s spending much more to conduct the 2010 census that the previous one. “They’re being given a huge amount of money already…so I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we do it right…”

Some Democratic lawmakers say Vitter’s effort is immoral and could result in an undercount of minorities. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said “we cannot allow lawmakers to use divisive tactics to scare people into not participating in the 2010 census.”

Director Groves isn’t surprised by all this controversy. “Every time a census is done after a big wave of immigration, issues like those we are talking about happen…my job is to do a non-partisan, professional, scientific census in whatever environment we’re dealt, and that’s been true for decades.”

As for who’s responsible for census questions, as well as the constitutionality of any of them, Director Groves says the Constitution directs Congress to conduct the census. Congress, he says, has the final call on including or excluding questions such as citizenship. “If you read the Constitution it specifies that Congress by law should direct how the census is done. It is their proper role to discuss these things. In 2007 according to regulations that we submitted to Congress, the topics that would be included in the questionnaire, citizenship was not included in the questionnaire.”