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The Census Will Add a Citizenship Question. What Happens Next?

Critics fear that the change will discourage immigrant participation in the 2020 count and lead to undercounting.
Chicago has shed more population than any other U.S. metro area, according to Census data.
Chicago has shed more population than any other U.S. metro area, according to Census data.Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The 2020 census will include a controversial question about citizenship, an addition that has sparked fears of a widespread undercount among communities that are already difficult to reach. Wilbur Ross, the secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce, announced the decision in a memo to the Department of Justice, which requested the question in December.

Critics worry that this change will prompt immigrant residents—even those in the country legally—to avoid participating in the 2020 census, out of fear that it could expose them or their loved ones to deportation. An undercount could have dramatic political consequences, both locally and nationally: Census population figures underpin the apportioning of congressional districts and representation and determine how more than $600 billion in federal funds are divvied up every year.