Sue and Jack Eberhart were a bit confused when the U.S. Census Bureau asked if they were citizens.
“THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ON THIS FORM,” Sue wrote on Page 8, Question 8 of the federal questionnaire.
The U.S. Supreme Court opined earlier this year that the Trump administration cannot include a question about citizenship on the decennial count of people in the country. But about 3.5 million Americans were asked the question this year when they received an inquiry from the federal government. Southwest Colorado was not spared.
But the Supreme Court decision had nothing to do with the annual American Community Survey, which is what the Eberharts received.
Sue Eberhart said she thought the questionnaire was part of the U.S. census because it came from the U.S. Department of Commerce so close to 2020. She started answering questions – a letter she’d received before the survey arrived told her it was required by law – when she came across the citizenship question.
“When I got to that question, I said, ‘That’s not right,’” she said.
A controversy erupted earlier this year after President Donald Trump fought a legal battle to get a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross justified the question as gathering information to enforce the Voting Rights Act and protect minority voters’ rights. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to block the question.
Democrats suggested a citizenship question might discourage people who are not citizens from participating in the survey for fear of retribution from federal law enforcement. Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center did not immediately respond to request for comment.
“It made us mad, it made us angry,” Sue Eberhart said of the question. “Just simply because day after day, Trump is just on his own ignoring the law and not being held responsible for it.”
The federal government has not asked every person in the United States about citizenship, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t tried.
The last time all Americans were asked a question about citizenship was during the 1950 U.S. census, when people were asked if they were born in the United States and, if they weren’t, were they naturalized? A question about “being a citizen” or “citizenship” did not appear.
The 1960 census asked for birthplace but not citizenship. Then, in 1970, the Census Bureau began sending two questionnaires, a short form asking for basic population information and a long form designed to get more detailed information about respondents.
Most people got the short form. About one in six received the long form.
The long-form census in 1970 had a question about citizenship. It even appeared on the 2000 long-form census. The 2010 census did not ask a citizenship question because the inquiry had been moved to The American Community Survey.
Federal officials began The American Community Survey in earnest in 2005. The annual survey of 3.5 million people replaced the long-form census and included many of the questions on the now discontinued long-form census. That includes the citizenship question.
According to a five-year average, about 3.9% of people in La Plata County were not born in the United States, according to data compiled from The American Community Survey. About 56% of the people not born in the United States who live in La Plata County are not U.S. citizens.
“We use your confidential survey answers to create statistics ... no one is able to figure out your survey answers from the statistics we produce,” according to a U.S. Census Bureau webpage about why federal officials need to know citizenship information. “ ... Individual records are not shared with anyone, including federal agencies and law enforcement entities.”