In the middle of a House Ways & Means Committee hearing yesterday about tariffs, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA-27) threw Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross a curveball, asking him about the 2020 Census and a potential question on citizenship being added to the questionnaire.

"There's a lot of fear by immigrant stakeholders that adding this question will create a lot of fear. That many immigrants will fail to respond to the entire questionnaire, fearing that their legal status will come under scrutiny. There are many that argue that the numbers reported from the census will be more inaccurate and that it will be more difficult to provide benefits and resources for low income communities who are afraid to be counted," Chu said.

At the end of 2017, the Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau add a question to the 2020 Census questionnaire on citizenship. The Insights Association has opposed adding such a question and joined with a lot of other groups in opposition.

The Congresswoman noted that she has heard from her local county board of supervisors in Los Angeles, who have highlighted that the county "already faces great challenges in counting minorities, immigrants and hard to survey populations." Further, a survey found that the last decennial Census missed "more than 113,000 Latino children in California and 47,000 Latino children in LA County." Such inaccuracies can make if "difficult for our government to administer important federal safety net programs such as WIC, SNAP and TANF."

So, Chu wanted to know whether or not the Commerce Department "plans to include the citizenship question in the 2020 census?"

Secretary Ross responded that he has been talking to "quite a lot of parties on both sides of that question," which has raised concerns about "accuracy" and "suppression of responses." The Commerce Department has "not made a final decision, as yet, because it's a very important and very complicated question." Ross said that the decision will be made "by March 31, which is the date on which we're required to report to the Congress the final questions for the 2020 decennial census."

Rep. Chu noted that the question is untested, which is against Census Bureau tradition, and wanted to know if the Commerce Department had "factored in the additional cost of adding this question -- this untested question."

Ross replied that there are likely 15-20 "different, very complicated issues involved in the request. Because it is from the Department of Justice, we are taking it very seriously and we will issue a fulsome documentation of whatever conclusion we finally come to."