The 2020 Census is already controversial for a very important reason
With all of the technology and super efficient ways we have of doing things these days, whether it’s ordering dinner or finding a date, some things still have to be done the old-fashioned way. According to the Constitution, the federal government is required to conduct a census every ten years to find out the actual number of people living in the U.S. It’s that provision — that the bean counters get an “real” count — that has already made the 2020 U.S. Census controversial two years before they actually start knocking on people’s doors.
On Monday, Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of the Department of Commerce, which conducts the Census, released a statement on their website saying that they will add a question to the 2020 version, asking people if they’re a U.S. citizen or not. The department explained that a question on “citizenship status will be reinstated to the 2020 decennial census questionnaire to help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Secretary Ross’s decision follows a request by the Department of Justice to add a question on citizenship status to the 2020 decennial census.” There is already an annual census questionnaire that asks people about their citizenship status, so there is no need to do so on the big one that comes around every ten years, especially since it’s used for so many political reasons.
The last time there was a question about citizenship on census was in 1950. Donald Trump supports the effort, as his re-election committee wrote in an email this week to supporters. The email read, according to CNN:
"The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens. 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. The President wants to know if you're on his side."
Here’s the thing: The U.S. Census is meant to get an” accurate” and “full” count of who lives in the country. That includes people living here who are not citizens. The Census isn’t just some attendance report — the data gathered helps the federal government divvy up billions of dollars to states and municipalities for literally all of the things, depending on how many and what type of people live there. Theoretically, a place with a high immigrant population (citizen or not) is more in need of say, ESL programs at the library than a place with not a lot of immigrants, and a place with tons of families and young kids might need park money or more crosswalk signs. These are things states and cities pay for using federal dollars. Oh, by the way, the Census also helps the federal government figure out how many House of Representative seats a district gets. So, it’s really important to figure out exactly who’s living in a each area.
This is, by the way, why you shouldn’t be afraid to respond to the U.S. Census, since there’s really no grand conspiracy about it. It’s just the federal government’s only way of knowing who’s who and what they might need. Although, in the current political climate, asking what someone’s citizenship status is takes on new meaning.
California, with the country’s highest immigrant population, announced on Tuesday that it will take the administration to court over the added citizenship question, since it will get in the way of getting an accurate count, which it says could be unconstitutional. It’s already hard to get immigrants and non-citizens to self report on the U.S. Census, so asking them to officially leave their home address and check a “non-citizen” box on a form is a great way to make sure they don’t answer at all. That the Commerce department is pretending that they’re only asking the name of the VRA, which ensures fairness for minority voters, makes the move all the worse.
It more and more feels clearly like the Trump administration doesn’t give a damn about minority voters. There’s no way a non-citizen would or should feel safe responding to a census question about their status, which means they’re not going to be rightfully represented.
The federal government under Trump has essentially declared war on immigrants. They’re allowing Immigrations and Custom Enforcement to detain, if not deport, more people than ever before and with more funding than in past years. Some, like New Jersey’s Attorney General, claim ICE is acting above the law in its methods of tracking non-citizens, like using their Facebook data, and how and where it picks people up.
In past years, if certain people were afraid of the Census because of some fear of Big Brother tracking them for the wrong reasons, this is actually a year to think twice about it all. Earlier this year, the administration said that it would not have a spot for LGBTQ Americans to declare their sexual orientation, which means that they might miss out on support services and health care that they disproportionately are in need of. In September, the Commerce department decided to include sexual orientation after all. The citizenship question has the opposite effect — while giving people a chance to officially “come out” with an LGBTQ box makes them visible, asking non-citizens to to check a box only further erases them and their needs.
The Trump administration asking about citizenship status under the guise of caring about minority voting rights is a purely political move and another way to bully undocumented immigrants underground. People shouldn’t have to fear for their lives or those of their family members because of a government census, especially when its sole purpose is to help them out and make sure they’re getting what they need. Let’s hope California wins its case.