This week, the Trump administration announced that the 2020 Census will ask respondents if they are U.S. citizens. The move sparked fiery controversy and legal challenges from 12 states.
Opponents say the question will make undocumented immigrants and even legal immigrants afraid to respond to the Census. The result would be a significant undercount of the population. And since population is used to determine federal funding and draw up the distribution of political representation, areas of the country with high immigrant populations could receive inadequate funds and unfair redistricting that would benefit Republicans by reducing the number of Democratic congressional districts.
The Census Bureau is legally required to keep answers confidential from other government entities. But given the sneaky and aggressive methods the Trump administration uses to get information from people, including secretly obtaining their phone numbers and computer records through Facebook, it’s understandable people would be unwilling to disclose their citizenship status.
Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, downplayed the change by saying, “This is a question that’s been included in every Census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed.”
But Sarah Huckabee Sanders, like Trump, makes things up.
There was no 1965 Census, since censuses are held every 10 years. The 1950 Census asked each person where they were born and, if they were foreign-born, if they were naturalized. The 1960 Census asked only where each person was born and nothing about citizenship.
Starting in 1970, the government sent two Census forms. The short form, which went to about 85 percent of homes, did not ask about citizenship. The long form, which went to the remainder of homes, did ask about citizenship. In 2010, that question was not removed, as Sanders said; the long form Census was just not sent that year.
Now, at least 12 states have said they will sue to prevent the Trump administration from adding the citizenship question.
California filed a lawsuit on March 26. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he was spearheading a lawsuit that includes several states. Officials in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington pledged to join.
The U.S. Constitution requires that every resident of the country be counted in a Census, regardless of citizenship. So the Trump administration is once again advancing an unconstitutional effort. The citizenship question was also added at the last minute to avoid the vetting process undergone by all the other questions. That’s another classic Trump tactic.
And in yet another typical Trump move, he used the addition of the citizenship question to drum up donations for his re-election. “The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens,” read a Trump campaign email sent to supporters this week. “In another era, this would be COMMON SENSE, but 19 attorneys general said they will fight the President if he dares to ask people if they are citizens.”
Sanders said the citizenship data was “necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters,” apparently because the Voting Rights Act depends on accurate estimates of eligible voters. It’s interesting that the Trump administration is unconcerned about protecting voters from Russian interference and his own voter suppression efforts.