Media divided over controversy of 2020 Census citizenship question

The upcoming 2020 Census is expected to include a question about citizenship status. Respondents will be required to answer whether they are natural born citizens, green card holders, or are not citizens at all. This has sparked controversy amid the current administration’s anti-immigration measures. In addition, many predict that the results of the survey may suffer from non-response bias or respondents may lie about their status out of fear of deportation, therefore skewing the data.

In trial on November 27th, the Supreme Court concluded that they will be determining the legality of the question in the coming weeks, despite the fact that the Justice Department originally delayed the hearing until February. Various states have filed lawsuits against the implementation of the question throughout the year, pressing the issue forward.

CNN covered the recent updates on the trial, analyzing the central controversy and specifically reporting the negative consequences of including the citizenship question. The article noted that although the point of the census is to cover everyone in the United States, including non-citizens, it has been running without the need of a citizenship question since 1950. Their sources seemed to further their stance, including a testimony from Census Bureau Chief Scientist Dr. John Abowd, who stated, “that the addition of the question would likely ‘decrease self-response and increase cost.’” The story further addressed the administration’s attempts to delay the trial, citing Judge Jesse Furman’s frustration. He reportedly wrote, “in one order that ‘enough is enough.’  He pointed out that any ruling from his court ‘will not hinder a higher court from granting full relief on appeal.’”

Fox News focused on the recent lawsuit filed by California against the administration over the question, emphasizing the arguments for implementation. They cited statements from the Department of Justice in particular, stating that, “California’s argument that it would lose congressional representation and billions in federal aid, is ‘highly speculative,’ the DOJ told a federal judge.” Like CNN, the article also mentioned the fact that a citizenship question has not been asked since 1950; however, FOX attributed the statement to a piece by the San Francisco Chronicle rather than presenting it as a statement on its own. The article added that “Ross has maintained that the DOJ’s motivation to add a citizenship question was merely to help enforce the Voting Rights Act,” thus attempting to justify the trial delays that CNN reported.  

Reuters took a different approach in covering the story, giving the court battle a broader context in relation to the party divide in Congress post-midterm elections and the differing agendas of Democrats and Republicans. They wrote that the attack on the citizenship question is a way for the Democrats, “to use urgent government funding talks under way in the U.S. Congress to reach a deal with Republicans that would remove the Trump administration’s controversial question on citizenship from the 2020 census.” According to Reuters, the funding deal, proposed to be short-term, is Democrats’ best chance at resolving the issue in their favor to appease the administration.

With focal points differing across media outlets, the coverage of the question is seemingly as fragmented as opinions on immigration policy itself. This could hinder citizens who habitually consume media from one source from fully understanding the controversy. Although this year’s elections have passed, the drawing of political districts is dependent on the census. With access only to the fragmented information provided by the media, people may rely on their partisan cues to inform their view of the question, regardless of the court decision that is yet to come.

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