As the federal government gears up for another census, one question that the Trump administration wants on the form is causing controversy. The simple question? "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

The person then checks off one of five responses.

Yes, born in the United States
Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas
Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents
Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization
No, not a U.S. citizen

This simple question is sending up red flags all across New Jersey. The census determines the allocation of billions of federal dollars. We are already one of the states that gets taxed more by the federal government than we get back from the federal government. The concern over this question is that so many illegal immigrants will not fill out their census forms out of fear of being flagged for deportation. Or at least going on a mysterious list somewhere. Which could lead to massive undercounts in a place like New Jersey. Which could mean far less federal money.

Many New Jersey cities and towns have huge populations of non-citizens. Union City, 34% non-citizen. New Brunswick, 29% non-citizen. Elizabeth, 28% non-citizen. You can see a more complete list of towns like these in this story by Patrick Lavery. His article points out recent estimates indicate about 1 in 10 people living in New Jersey are non-citizens. So you can see the cause for concern about a massive undercount.

U.S. Senator Corey Booker is imploring people to register their concern over this question appearing on the census by taking part in the public comment period open until August 7th at the U.S. Commerce Department. You can comment online here.

Well Senator Booker, here's one comment you wouldn't want being made on that site. I think your mission is misguided. I think it's an important question to ask. First, please note that the fifth response choice simply reads no, not a U.S. citizen. It doesn't differentiate between illegal and a non-citizen who is in this country long term on proper visas. That alone should alleviate some concern about this being a witch hunt. Also, instead of fighting the question's inclusion perhaps focusing efforts on explaining to non-citizens they have nothing to fear by filling out the form would do more good. A massive public relations campaign to assure all non-citizens, illegal or otherwise, that a future path toward citizenship can't be hammered out until we know exactly the numbers we're dealing with. Even this non-citizen question won't clearly answer that but it will come into better focus. Of course will they trust such a PR campaign of assurance from the same administration that wants to build a wall and had separated children from families at the border? Dubious at best, but we should try.

A nation such as ours has the right, actually the need, to know how many citizens vs. non-citizens we're dealing with. It can help with programs. It can help shape policy. To be politically correct and not even ask the question is not reasonable. The very fact that such a simple inquiry could create such a firestorm only proves how serious our immigration problem is in this country. We need to get our bearings if we're going to fix it.

Besides, this is not the first time this question has appeared on a census form. It has been asked before on the long form, with the same response choices. The long form was only sent to a certain number of households whereas the short form that didn't include the citizenship question went out to the majority. The long form even contained questions about income and household plumbing.

Point is, it's been asked before. Why now is it suddenly an electrified third rail not to be gone near? It is a valid question and the focus should be assurances of not being singled out rather than mollification of special interest groups.

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