“Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
How will you answer this question when it’s time to complete the 2020 census form?
How do you feel about being asked?
On March 26, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the upcoming Census question was added after a request from the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), supposedly to enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibiting discriminatory voting practices and/or procedures.
This has led to lawsuit from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, citing the question violates the Constitution and federal laws. Several states including New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington, are following suit in an attempt to get the question eliminated.
The federal government’s justification for the inquiry is so it can better ascertain the nation’s demographics, as is delineated in article one, section two of the Constitution.
Census data is necessary to determine how many representative are needed in Congress, and how to best allocate funds for federal infrastructure projects. But Trump administration critics suspect the new question is bound to deter millions of immigrants, particularly Latinos, most of whom reside in Democratic states like New York and California.
Even though the Census doesn’t determine who votes, the results of votes determine how and where funds are applied.
Professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University, Jennifer Lynne Van Hook, argues:
“If the census counts are biased or flawed, this could affect the number of representatives states have in the House of Representatives…If adding the citizenship question reduces coverage of the foreign-born population, it could reduce the amount of federal and state resources allocated to communities that have large shares of immigrants, and it could also reduce representation of states with large numbers of immigrants.”
Voting rights advocates fear producing citizenship data from the census’ “actual enumeration” could give the federal government information it needs to apportion congressional seats based on each state’s number of citizens, not people. States like Texas and California would be disproportionately underrepresented and under funded as a result.
Last year, a bureau researcher informed a census advisory committee that focus groups and field tests found immigrants reluctant to complete surveys with the citizenship question on it. One respondent fled her home; another moved after an interview with a census employee; others simply lied or stopped answering.
Researchers said these problems didn’t exist three years ago. Now, though, one respondent stated:
“The possibility that the census could give my information to internal security and immigration could come and arrest me for not having documents terrifies me.”
Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing information for 72 years after it’s been collected. According to the Census Bureau, only an individual identified on the census record or a legal heir can access the information earlier.
Try telling that to people the Trump administration has intimidated with relentless deportation.
There is also another insidious implication.
Remember when Donald Trump claimed–falsely–that three to five-million illegal voters cast fraudulent ballots in the 2016 election?
Rice University sociologist and demographer, Steve Murdock, who served as former President George W. Bush’s Census Bureau director from 2007 to 2009, stated:
“I think it will have the effect of suppressing the count and it will lead people to try to stay out of the Census rather than get in it.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross isn’t concerned. He stated:
“Even if there is some impact on responses, the value of more complete and accurate data derived from surveying the entire population outweighs such concerns.”
The Supreme Court has ruled states are permitted to use total population when drawing districts, but they don’t have to.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, tried blaming the Obama administration.
“This is a question that’s been included in every census since 1965 with the exception of 2010 when it was removed. This is — we’ve contained this question that’s provided data that’s necessary for the department of justice to protect voters and specifically, to help us better comply with the voting rights act, which is something that is important and a part of this process. And again, this is something that has been part of the census for decades and something that the Department of Commerce felt strongly needed to be included again.”
Except it hasn’t “been included in every census since 1965 with the exception of 2010.”
According to The New York Times:
“The decennial census generally included a citizenship inquiry for more than 100 years through 1950, according to the Commerce Department.”
Image credit: MeriTalk