In The Census, What We Count…Counts!

The Trump administration is manipulating the questions on the 2020 census to increase the political power of the rural-leaning, white nationalist base. The Commerce Department, at the request of the Justice Department is planning to add a question to the 2020 census that asks for a person’s citizenship status. Because many immigrant communities distrust the government and fear that the census is a tool to facilitate deportation this will lead to a severe undercounting of immigrant populations. This has enormous implications for determining House districts and the distribution of federal funds. This plan reflects blatant partisan hostility towards immigrants and unfairly increases the power of Trump’s rural and white nationalist base.

Every ten years since 1790, as required by the Constitution, the federal government carries out a careful census of residents of the United States.   An accurate count is crucial and serves the interests of both political parties and every individual in this country. Census data is used to determine the distribution of over $675 billion of annual federal funding, is the basis for drawing congressional districts, determines each state’s number of Electoral College votes and supports the application of civil rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. This data must not be politicized.

The Constitution specifically requires a census count of “persons,” not “citizens.” A question on citizenship has not been asked of all U.S. households since 1950. The proposed question has not been tested, as is done with all other new questions, and was proposed nine months after the Bureau was required to submit the 2020 questionnaire topics, just days before the final deadline. The Census Bureau’s own research demonstrates that a citizenship question will lower response rates among immigrants, making the census less accurate for important groups.

While the Trump administration claims that the “citizenship” question will help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act more effectively, it will in fact prevent millions of Americans, many of them Latinos, from being counted at all. The anti-immigrant political environment created by Trump’s repeated efforts to discredit voter registration data, the destruction of DACA, the deportation of undocumented immigrants and his flagrantly anti-immigrant comments will undermine every immigrant’s belief in the confidentiality of census data.

The administration is politicizing the census in other ways as well. Troops stationed overseas will now be counted as residing on their U.S. military base, rather than at their home addresses boosting the population count of many conservative states, and by extension, the size of their House delegations. The administration has refused to add two new racial identification categories for Middle Eastern/North African and Hispanic origin pushing those who would identify in that way to choose “white” and eliminating their own narrative. Finally, despite years of efforts by LGBTQ advocacy groups, the administration refused to add questions that would support efforts of these individuals to be represented in the data and get fair and adequate access to equal rights, protections and services.


Call To Action

Call all your representatives and tell them to use all their influence to reject the untested and blatantly discriminatory citizenship question on the 2020 census. This includes:

  • Hearings with public testimony from both Census Bureau staff and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the research and rationale for this question.
  • If necessary Congress should pass legislation to block this question.

The New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, is leading a multistate lawsuit to stop the move, and officials in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington said they would join the effort. The State of California is filling a separate lawsuit.  If your state is not on this list call your state Attorney General and demand that they join this effort.

The citizenship question is also the subject of lawsuits that will be filed by the NAACP and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.  Consider donating to these efforts or others you read about.

Post Script:  Last week we urged you to learn more about the big picture of gun violence in America, especially in urban areas.  We have created a list of helpful sites here