GOP senators want census funds cut if citizenship isn't asked

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Bobbi Bowman
November 16, 2009
By Bobbi Bowman

Bobbi BowmanThe U.S. Senate finally turned aside an attempt to add a citizenship question to the upcoming 2010 Census.

The Washington Post reported Nov. 5 that 'Lawmakers voted 60 to 39 to effectively kill an amendment by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) that would have excluded illegal immigrants from population totals used to apportion Congressional seats in each state. The pair argued that the high numbers of illegal immigrants in larger, heavily-urbanized states would mean that at least nine other states would lose Congressional seats following next year's census.'

The senators were really asking to revive the citizenship question which was included on the census form for more than 1000 years. It was only with 1960 census, that the Census Bureau stopped asking all residents whether they were U.S. citizens or where they were born.

Let's trace the history of the census and citizenship.

The Constitution requires that every 10 years the government count every man, woman and child living in the country. The Founding Fathers created the decennial census to determine how many seats to award each state in the House of Representatives.

Yes, the census has always been about power. That's why the South insisted that the census count non-citizens. When US marshals conducted the first census in 1790, they counted the slaves too.

Slaves were not citizens. They had no rights. They were property like the pigs. But, the census counted them as three-fifths of a person to give southern states more political clout.

The citizenship question first appeared in the 1820 Census and remained there in various forms for 170 years, until it was dropped for the 1960 count.

From 1970 to 2000, questions about place of birth were not part of the general census but were asked of a representative sample of residents.

The 2010 Census form that all residents will receive in March contains 10 questions, making it one of the shortest in history.

Place of birth and citizenship questions are now part of the American Community Survey, an ongoing nationwide sample that provides more snapshots of what the population looks like and how it lives.

Every 60 to 80 years a nation mostly of immigrants conducts an ugly debate over immigration between the descendants of earlier arrivals and of those newly arrived. The census always reflects that very loud conversation.

The Last Word: The13th Amendment to the Constitution granted citizenship to slaves in 1865.


Here's a sampling of how the census has asked about citizenship. The citizenship question first appeared in the 1820 Census and continued to be asked until 1960.

1820 - Number of foreigners not naturalized.

1850 - Place of birth. In the 1840s large numbers of Irish began arriving in the United States to escape the Potato Famine in Ireland. They encountered widespread discrimination and hostility largely because they were poor and Catholic.

1870 - Is the person a male citizen of the United States of 21 years or more?

1910 - Is the person naturalized or an alien? This census showed that immigrants comprised nearly 15 percent of the population, the highest percentage ever. Waves of Italians, Poles, Jews and Greeks came to America from the 1880s until World War I.

1950 - If foreign born, is the person naturalized?

1960 - Only five questions. None about citizenship or place of birth.

1970-2000 - The place-of-birth questions were not part of the general census but were asked of a representative sample of residents.




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