Playing Politics with the U.S. Census
As the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to conduct the decennial Census in 2020, concerns about the inclusion of a question regarding citizenship requested by the Trump Administration have cause widespread opposition and prompted lawsuits to be filed by more than two dozen states. It’s no wonder, because it’s a classic example of a shell game.
Critics say the inclusion of such a question will reduce immigrant and minority participation, resulting in an undercount of these populations. Given the administration’s relationship with these communities, the concern is warranted.
What the Census Determines is Critical
Conducted every decade since 1790, the Census counts the total number of people living in the country – not the total number of citizens. Census data are the basis for determining the allocation of federal grant programs that fund state and local projects like the construction of roads and schools.
It’s also used to redraw congressional districts and determine the number of representatives each district gets. And, the numbers are used for official purposes for the next 10 years.
A huge concern with the addition of a question about citizenship is that undocumented immigrants will not answer the question or refuse to participate and thus, not be counted. Minorities have traditionally been under-counted in the Census by as much as 4.43 percent. An inaccurate count of these populations would mostly negatively affect the places where minorities and immigrants live – cities and blue states.
If the goal of the Census is to ensure an accurate count of the number of people in the U.S., then every means to encourage participation should be pursued and any question that could dissuade responses should be avoided. Yet, that isn’t the case.
It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to conclude that an under-count of immigrants and minorities is the Trump administration’s goal, given its aggressive “no tolerance” policy on immigration and amiable relationship with white supremacists.
Adding to the suspicion about the question is the fact that the U.S. Commerce Department’s official explanation as to why a citizenship question is included makes no sense. Commerce oversees the Census Bureau and says the question was included to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, a law that removed barriers that prevented African Americans from voting as guaranteed under the Constitution.
As citizenship is a prerequisite to voting, how does a question about citizenship relate to African American voting rights?
What the Trump administration Says, Versus What it Does
In March, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the question about citizenship had been included on every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010. Not surprisingly, that statement was inaccurate and misleading.
For starters, 1965 is an odd year and the census is done every decade, so that couldn’t be true. Also, citizenship hasn’t been a mandatory question on the official Census since 1950. So why the interest now?
The administration argues that if the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), which asked for the citizenship question, is to enforce the Voting Rights Act, then DOJ should know where eligible voters, and specifically eligible voters of color, live – and they also must distinguish citizens from non-citizens. Perhaps Sessions forgot, but citizenship is a requirement for voting and African Americans, are citizens.
Moreover, the DOJ under Sessions has done nothing that’s been in the best interest of minorities and immigrants. In fact, it’s done quite the opposite, dialing-back criminal justice reform measures designed to stop the school-to-prison pipeline for Black men, ramping up immigration enforcement with “no tolerance” policies that resulted in kids in cages and reversing Obama administration policies designed to hold police departments throughout the country accountable for upholding civil rights.
So, Americans are to believe that the DOJ is suddenly interested in protecting African American voting rights? We’re to believe that the same DOJ that put immigrant kids in cages wants illegal immigrants counted in the Census? That would require an incredible level of naiveite.
What’s the End Game?
The goal of the administration is to shift the political landscape by apportionment and redistricting from the use of voting age population (which would include immigrants) to citizen voting age population, which excludes immigrants.
The citizenship question is designed specifically to hurt blue states by under-counting populations the administration knows typically skew Democratic. It’s underhanded and wrong, but there’s something each of us can do to prevent it.
The Commerce Department is now accepting comments on the proposed citizenship question and the comment period closes on August 7. To submit a comment opposing the proposed citizenship question, click here.