Trump Is Poisoning the Census With Bias

On Monday night, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that he will ask about the citizenship of every person in the U.S. in the 2020 census. He is doing this at the request of the Justice Department, against the advice of the Census Bureau’s career professionals, civil rights groups, and communities across the country. He has admitted that adding this question was “controversial.”

The Constitution requires that the federal government conduct a census every 10 years. The Fourteenth Amendment mandates that the decennial census count the “whole number of persons in each State.” Yet adding the citizenship question threatens exactly this goal by intimidating citizens and non-citizens alike from participating in a process which directly affects their lives. This decision is just the latest in the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrant communities and other vulnerable populations. It puts politics over democratic principles and the consequences will be enormous.

Research from the Census Bureau just last year identified how the current political environment may intimidate individuals in already hard-to-count communities from responding to the decennial census. In fact, the research was prompted by a “recent increase in respondents spontaneously expressing concerns to researchers and field staff about confidentiality and data access relating to immigration.” Participants in focus groups specifically talked about Trump’s anti-immigrant policies like the Muslim ban and his ramp up of deportations as reasons they would fear participating in the census. Driving down response rates in certain racial and ethnic groups not only threatens the integrity of census data, it harms those very communities.

The federal government depends on decennial census data to decide how many Congressional representatives each state receives and states rely on this data to draw the districts for their own legislatures. Adding a citizenship question and depressing response rates in already underrepresented communities will allow politicians to draw even more skewed legislative districts. It will also harm federal and state government efforts to accurately distribute funds to communities based on population in everything from Medicaid to school-lunch programs to veterans’ assistance. As Ross is well aware, the census has already struggled to accurately count the numbers of many non-white groups. Inserting this question threatens the progress made over the previous two censuses.

The political decision to add a citizenship question becomes even plainer when looking at the context for the Justice Department’s request. The Department of Commerce was required to submit to Congress the topics of its proposed questions last March in order to ensure the chance to provide input and test the wording of questions. Yet citizenship was not among the topics submitted to Congress and was rushed into consideration because of a late request from John Gore, the acting assistant attorney general in the civil rights division and a Trump political appointee.

Five former directors of the census, serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations, have opposed this decision. The Justice Department argued that citizenship data is critical to the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, yet the decennial census has not included a citizenship question since 1950 (which the exception of New York and Puerto Rico in 1960). In fact, the Justice Department already has citizenship data available to it, which is collected through smaller population surveys that can be adjusted statistically to account for people who don’t respond. The critical difference is that the decennial census is an actual hard count of the population, and if someone doesn’t respond because they are intimidated, they simply go uncounted.

Democracy requires that the census count people in all communities, not just those whom the administration favors.

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Anonymous

This is smoke in mirrors, and really aims to artificially inflate the number of "citizens" in left-leaning districts to increase the representation in those areas and away from the more rural and right-leaning districts.

Anonymous

Left leaning citizens already far outnumber Right leaning citizens in the country, Currently Republican power is based more on political gerrymandering than number of voters.

Joey Johnson

What happens if I refuse to answer that question?

Anonymous

You can be fined according to the law.

Anonymous

You are misusing the 14th ,Amendment to give foreigners a backdoor with which to colonize us. Those "non-citizens" you are so concerned about are citizens of other countries. They, and a few of the countries they belong to (notably Mexico) have too much power over our government already. No foreign country or group of UNINVITED foreigners should have any political power in the USA. They especially shouldn't have the power to override the will of US Citizens or to hurt US Citizens by doing things like holding our budget hostage. If we are going to just let other countries colonize us then the whole American Revolution thing was rather pointless.

Bill

This article did not address the concept of one person one vote, or more specifically, the importance of US citizens having proportional elected representation. Hypocritically it ends with an appeal to democracy.

"This decision is just the latest in the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrant communities..." I would expect an author who posts with the ACLU would be more articulate in distinguishing undocumented immigrant communities from legal immigrant communities; there is a difference. Ditto the sentiment for "non-white groups."

Anonymous

When they start talking about "non-white groups" in terms of immigration I like to point out that most immgrants are brown. Additionally, our system is heavily biased toward specific "brown" groups at the expense of all black ones. For example, Africans (from the whole Continent not just one Country) account for only 4 percent of our immigrant population.

Bill

@Anonymous March 30 11:28AM: You also didn't distinguish between undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants, which you really must do to make a relevant comment about this article. Legal immigrants have nothing to do with this article (they have nothing to fear), and undocumented "white" immigrants are just as relevant as undocumented "brown" immigrants for this article. You say our system is racially biased, which is a really amazing statement because race is not a factor that's considered when DHS/USCIS/DoS evaluates someone's greencard/visa application. Maybe you meant it's racially biased against brown undocumented immigrants, but guess what? By definition the "system" doesn't control how many undocumented immigrants of any race come into the country.

Anonymous

Our immigration system indirectly favors brown skin colored people over others by allowing extra visas to be granted to people from specific countries. It directly favors people with brown skin colors as to get a family visa you have to have family in the USA and, due to the very low number of "black" immigrants in the USA, the odds of someone from countries that are mostly black getting a family visa are slim to none. Also, our lax enforcement of our immigration laws stack the odds of being able to sneak in and stay even more in favor of people who can walk across the border (brown people). of course, I'm not being entirely fair to the brown people who don't come from Mexico and Central America because people from South America and poorer Asian Countries are also at a disadvantage when it comes to living in the USA. In addition, look at how little attention the Haitian TPS holders are getting compared to Latinos who are being told to leave. You can also just check the stats.

Anonymous

I'm with Republicans on this. This is another reason why I can't vote Democratic anymore.

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