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Oklahoma Attorney General On Census Citizenship Question


The Trump administration is adding a question to the 2020 U.S. census, a question about citizenship. At least a dozen states are planning to sue to stop it from being asked. Their reason - a question about citizenship could potentially deter immigrants here, both legally and illegally, from participating in the census. That could affect federal resources those states get and skew political representation in some districts. One vocal supporter of the citizenship question is Oklahoma's attorney general Mike Hunter. I asked him why he thinks it's an important addition.

MIKE HUNTER: Citizenship matters. And the idea that the census should not collect citizenship data doesn't make sense to me. Moreover, it is important to ensure that in states where there's a significant minority population - that there are districts drawn that will reasonably allow a minority representative to be elected in those districts. And not having that date and not knowing the universe of citizens who can vote and who are both registered and not registered really puts you at a disadvantage in the context of ensuring that a minority district is drawn pursuant to the Supreme Court directives.

COLEMAN: The Census Bureau has another method to collect data on people. It's the American Community Survey. And they - I know that former Civil Rights Division chief in the Justice Department Vanita Gupta has said that that was sufficient to collect information to do the work. Is that not enough for you?

HUNTER: No. I guess I would reject sufficiency in exchange for precision. The community surveys only go out to about one out of 32 possible respondents. Census data from every resident is the best way - the most precise, the most reliable way - for us to, again, ensure that minority districts are being drawn in a way that allows, in a reasonable fashion, a minority representative to be elected.

COLEMAN: There is some recent evidence from Census Bureau researchers that just asking the citizenship question will decrease response rates. So there is some initial data that does show that response does decline.

HUNTER: Well, there are studies and surveys. And there are polls that can indicate just about whatever a proponent wants to conclude. My position is citizenship matters. And for those individuals who are responding to the census, I want to reassure them that there is no exposure to any criminal or civil liability as long as they are answering questions honestly and accurately.

COLEMAN: Do you plan on doing any outreach to immigrant or minority communities to encourage them to fill out the census?

HUNTER: If there begins to be concern expressed, I'm happy to make myself available for public service announcements and anything along that line. But, you know, the consistent position that we're going to take is you don't have to worry about exposing yourself to any kind of criminal liability by completing the census form.

COLEMAN: Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, thank you so much for joining us.

HUNTER: Thank you, Korva. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.