NPR fact-checks Sarah Huckabee’s claim that citizenship has been a standard census question


Beginning in 2020, the Department of Commerce plans to add a question requesting citizenship status to the United States census. In response to inquiries regarding the decision Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, claimed that this question has been asked since 1965 (notably, a year the census is not issued). A look at the facts reveals another story.

While the U.S. census has been conducted once every ten years since 1790, 1950 was the last year this question of citizenship status was asked of all U.S. households. 1960 didn’t include any such question, and beginning in 1970, the Census Bureau sent out two types of forms, one short and the other long. Most U.S. families received the short form which did not have the question of citizenship. The long form had it, but only 1 in 6 households received this version of the census.

California, which has a large immigrant population, has sued to block the question and New York plans to follow suit. They fear that some families with undocumented persons may not fill out the census or fill it incompletely due to fear of reprisals, “even though the Census Bureau is legally required to keep answers confidential.” This could have grave consequences for the way census information is used to apportion federal funding and even congressional seats, undermining areas with heavier immigrant populations.

It is surely no coincidence that the citizenship question will be added for all U.S. households under the Trump administration, as a crackdown on immigrants—undocumented and documented, up to and including naturalized citizens—has been the cornerstone of its domestic agenda.

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