By Hansi Lo Wang for NPR

Every decade, the U.S. Census Bureau asks some personal questions for the national headcount required by the constitution. But since 1960, one topic that hasn’t come up for all U.S. residents is citizenship.

The Trump administration is trying to change that with a Department of Justice request for a question about citizenship on the 2020 census.

In a letter to the Census Bureau, first reported by ProPublica, a Justice Department official made the case for asking about citizenship. In order for the department to enforce the Voting Rights Act’s protections against racial discrimination in voting, the official wrote, it needs a better count of citizens who are old enough to vote.

The Census Bureau confirms the bureau received the letter. “The request will go through the well-established process required for any potential new question,” a spokesperson for the bureau, Moniqua Roberts-Gray, said in a statement. The Justice Department has not responded to a request for comment.

The request from Justice Department comes at a precarious moment for the Census Bureau. The agency is preparing to collect responses in a routine field test of its 2020 questions beginning in March; the final wording of those questions is due to Congress by the end of the same month.

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