Trump's controversial change to the 2020 Census could have massive political and economic consequences

  • The Commerce Department announced Monday that it would include a question regarding citizenship on the 2020 Census.
  • Many lawmakers and advocates worry the move could lead to an inaccurate count of immigrants in the US.
  • A statistically significant miscount in the Census could hurt everything from how the federal government allocates funds, to academic research, to private business decisions.

The Commerce Department announced Monday that the upcoming 2020 Census will include a new question on citizenship, a tweak that could send shockwaves through the world of politics and economics.

The department said the census will now ask whether or not a respondent is a citizen of the US.

The Trump administration says the addition will help properly enforce the Voting Rights Act. But immigration advocates and many lawmakers expressed concern that it could undercount immigrants, particularly those in the US illegally, thus distorting the overall population count.

"An accurate count of everyone living in the United States is vital to our democracy," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Adding a question designed to depress participation in certain communities is an assault on the foundations of this country."

The attorneys general of New York and California have already said they plan to sue the Trump administration to remove the question. 

RELATED: Here's an inside look at Trump's bipartisan immigration meeting held in January:

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Trump holds bipartisan meeting on immigration reform
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), flanked by Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), rubs his eyes and listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US Senator Dianne Feinstein (C), D-California, speaks to US President Donald Trump during a meeting with bipartisan members of the Senate on immigration at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ), flanked by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks as President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) speaks during a meeting about immigration with U.S. President Donald Trump and Republican and Democrat members of Congress in the Cabinet Room at the White House January 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. In addition to seeking bipartisan solutions to immigration reform, Trump advocated for the reintroduction of earmarks as a way to break the legislative stalemate in Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, center, listens while U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, right, speaks during a meeting with bipartisan members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Trump�indicated he's willing to split contentious immigration proposals into two stages, providing protections for young immigrants known as dreamers and increasing border security first, leaving tougher negotiations on comprehensive legislation for later. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as President Donald Trump conducts a meeting on immigration in the Cabinet Room at the White House January 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. In addition to seeking bipartisan solutions to immigration reform, Trump advocated for the reintroduction of earmarks as a way to break the legislative stalemate in Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: Republican and Democrat members of Congress, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and others join President Donald Trump for a meeting on immigration in the Cabinet Room at the White House January 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. In addition to seeking bipartisan solutions to immigration reform, Trump advocated for the reintroduction of earmarks as a way to break the legislative stalemate in Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Outside of the legal question — the Constitution says the census should be an accurate count of people in the US regardless of citizenship — any miscount could also have serious consequences for state agencies, economists, and academics.

Here's a rundown of what could be affected by the change:

  • Congressional votes and districts: The census is used to determine the number of Electoral College votes and members of Congress for each state. 
  • More than $675 billion in federal fund distributions: According to a 2017 paper by Marisa Hotchkiss and Jessica Phelan of the Census Bureau, 132 federal programs appropriated a bit more than $675 billion in 2015 primarily using data derived from the decennial census. Here are just a few federal programs that rely on census data to determine how much money to appropriate and whether the funding is being used correctly:
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP, or food stamps)
    • Highway Planning and Construction
    • Federal Pell Grant Program
    • Special Education Grants to States
    • School Breakfast Program
    • Crime Victim Assistance
    • Rural Rental Assistance Payments
    • Fire Management Assistance Grant
  • Federal and local policymaking: Federal and local politicians make policy decisions based in part on demographic data provided by the census. For instance, a city planner may use census data to determine the best location for a new school given a higher concentration of children moving into one area of the city. Emergency response officials in South Florida also used the data to determine areas more vulnerable to major weather events.
  • Academic and economic research depends on census data: Researchers in a wide range of academic fields rely on the data to conduct their analyses, which often help form public policy.
  • Private business decisions:A 2015 review found that many businesses used census data to determine growth decisions, such as where to place new locations or offices. "The ACS is an important component of the information that businesses need to make decisions to help them run efficiently, hire wisely, and serve their customers' needs," the study said.

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