This bill — the Authorizing Moderated Enumeration Responses Including Citizenship Acquisition Act (AMERICA) Act — would make the penalty for refusing or neglecting to answer a decennial census question apply only to questions that the government needs an answers for to ensure an accurate count of citizen and noncitizen populations. This bill would take effect with the 2020 decennial census.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not voted
House Committee on Oversight and Government ReformIntroducedOctober 30th, 2018
- house Committees
What is it?
In-Depth: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced this bill to require people to answer the citizenship question that will be added to the 2020 census.
While he wasn’t writing in direct support of this bill, Former Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA) expressed support for making Census participation mandatory in 2020, given the controversy surrounding the new citizenship question:
“Completing the Census form is a civic duty, as valuable to society as serving on juries, paying taxes or obtaining a driver’s license… [C]onsidering the controversy surrounding the citizenship question that will likely be part of the 2020 census and the dislike for President Trump, the likelihood of a voluntary census is slim without… enforcement mechanisms… [T]he U.S. Department of Justice asked for the now-controversial citizenship question so that it would have information necessary to enforce the federal Voting Rights Act. Since noncitizens cannot vote anyway, calls from them that object to the citizenship question seem to be an effort to politicize the advocacy question. Why shouldn’t Americans have accurate information about the numbers of undocumented immigrants present within U.S. borders, how many citizens reside in the U.S. and other information elicited by the survey? A common-sense citizenship question will provide helpful information.”
The Trump administration has not made any statements about this specific bill, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has stated that the administration is interested in ensuring that individuals participate in the census:
“Look, the goal is to have data that we can use for specific thing. And we think that having accurate data is important. I'm not aware of a mass campaign to start fining individuals, but we certainly want people to follow the law and we want them -- whether it's the census or anything else, people should follow the law, and the law should be enforced."
While no one organizations have spoken in direct opposition to this bill, it’s worth noting that this is a step towards making the census more voluntary, which could reduce participation. Currently, participation in census surveys is around 97-98 percent, and a 2011 Census Bureau report stated that testing making the American Community Survey (ACS) survey voluntary in 2002-03 led to a participation rate drop of over 20 percent. The Census Bureau further noted that making the ACS voluntary would drive costs up by at least 38 percent and lead to lower participation from communities that have historically lower participation rates:
“Perhaps of greatest concern, the use of voluntary collection methods had a negative impact on traditionally low response areas that will compromise our ability to produce reliable data for these areas and for small population groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
Additionally, while the Census Bureau has the authority to fine individuals for not participating in surveys, it isn’t a prosecuting agency, and its FAQ for the ACS states:
“The Census Bureau is not a prosecuting agency. Failure to provide information is not likely to result in a fine. The Census Bureau staff work to achieve cooperation and high response rates by helping the public understand that responding to the ACS is a matter of civic responsibility, and prefers to encourage participation in this manner rather than prosecution.”
Of Note: Currently, the fine for refusing to answer a Census Bureau survey question can be as much as $5,000, and willfully giving false answers can be punished with a fine of up to $500. However, the Census Bureau doesn’t tend to levy fines against people who don’t respond to the ACS. According to the Bureau in 2014, no one had been prosecuted for failing to respond to a survey since the 1970 census.
Calls to boycott the 2020 census have been circulating on social media since the addition of a citizenship question was announced in March 2018. Prior to this change, the last time that all U.S. households were asked about citizenship status on a census form was 1950. NPR’s Hansi Lo Wong called the citizenship question chilling for immigrants’ participation in the census, with significant ramifications for communities:
“A lot of census watchers, former census bureau directors, other census experts have said that they are very, very concerned that there already is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, that already folks are very concerned about giving personal information to the federal government, that now if there is a citizenship question added as the Commerce Department is announcing that ... a lot of immigrants, not only those who are undocumented, but anyone who maybe has ties to folks who are undocumented, may not want to ... participate in the census and therefore they would not be counted, and that has direct impacts on how people are represented in this country. All census numbers are used to reapportion seats in Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, and also these numbers have an impact on how billions of dollars are distributed around the country ... from the federal level all the way down to the local level of how school districts figure out how to divide up resources. So this could have a really big impact if immigrants are not participating in the census in 2020."
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / tattywelshie)