March 14 (UPI) — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will testify before the House oversight and reform committee Thursday over his controversial addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
House Democrats are poised to grill Ross, 81, over the reasoning behind the Trump administration’s addition of a question asking U.S. residents about their citizenship, fearing its purpose is to intimidate immigrants from filling out the census.
Ross first proposed the question for inclusion March 26, 2018, stating it is to help enforce Voting Rights Act provisions that protect racial and language minorities — an explanation that Democrats don’t buy.
The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. EDT.
“Everything about adding the question doesn’t pass the smell test,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif. said. “I want to really get to the bottom of that,” NBC News reported.
Gomez, who sits on the committee, called Ross’s Violating Acts explanation “B.S..” and he intends to see Thursday if he lied to Congress last year when he offered that explanation.
The question is seen by House Democrats as way to scare immigrants from participating in the census, which would affect the number of representatives in Congress, and in the electoral college, for states with high immigrant populations.
The important census data, collected every 10 years at the start of the decade, is used to determine the number of representatives in Congress for each state. It’s also used to allocate federal funds.
On Thursday, Democrats are expected to question Ross on whether he lied to Congress under oath last March when he said the question was added at the request of the Department of Justice in December 2017. Documents from a recent court case question that assertion.
The question asks is: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” and since its attempted inclusion in the 2020 census, Ross has fielded three legal cases from jurisdictions with high immigrant populations, including a coalition suit of 18 states and six cities. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled on that case Jan. 15, ordering the question’s removal. He said Ross’s inclusion of the question was constitutional but “unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons.” Furman also found the question undermines representative democracy.
Earlier this month, a California federal judge again blocked the question from inclusion, going further than Furman by stating that it violates administrative law and is unconstitutional.
“In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system — and does so based on a self-defeating rationale,” U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of California wrote in his ruling.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the matter April 23 in New York.
If the question is allowed to be included, it will be the first time since the 1950s that questions of citizenship status will be asked.
While much of Thursday’s hearing is expected to be monopolized by the citizenship question, its purpose is to discuss all ongoing preparations of the 2020 census, of which there are several outstanding issue, including those over a budget shortfall.
The House’s $1.3 trillion spending bill, passed in March, nearly doubled funding for the Census Bureau from the $1.47 billion allocated in 2017 to $2.814 billion.
Other issues include worries over cybersecurity, as this will be the first census to shift online.