We’re not surprised at Monday’s announcement that the Trump administration has decided to include a question about citizenship status in the 2020 Census forms to be sent to all U.S. households. This is, after all, an administration that politicizes everything it touches, from tweets about the national anthem at football games to budget-busting tax cuts aimed at influencing the midterm election.
And make no mistake: Despite all the rhetoric coming out of the administration, the decision is simply politics — a ploy to wrestle power from Democrats. It doesn’t hurt that it plays into Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, or that it likely will shift political power from urban areas to Trump’s rural base.
Oregon with a significant undocumented population that could be scared off by the question from completing the census, have much to lose. We hope the state is successful in its legal challenge to the question, and we urge Congress to act against it as well.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who decides what the census will ask, said he had no evidence that a citizenship question would decrease response rates. But in January, he received a letter from six former Census Bureau directors — Republicans and Democrats — saying, “We strongly believe that adding an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.”
Ross claimed the citizenship data could help identify potential voting-rights violations. Just like, we suppose, President Trump’s special commission was supposed to uncover widespread voter fraud. It didn’t and disbanded in January.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “This is a question that’s been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed.” In truth, there was no census in 1965, and the last time everyone was asked about their citizenship was in 1950. Some other census surveys sent to a much smaller number of households, such as the American Community Survey, have posed the question.
But even if Sanders was right, the nation’s atmosphere is much different now than in 2010. Although census results are confidential, asking the undocumented to answer a citizenship question in Trump’s America is disingenuous. Experts say Latinos were undercounted in the 2010 Census. An apolitical census bureaucracy would be trying to fix that, not potentially make it much worse.
The government uses census data to apportion the hundreds of billions of dollars it spends annually on hospitals, schools, public works and other services. In 2010, it amounted to more than $1,200 per person annually, so for every 100 people not counted, a city could be out $120,000 every year.
The census also determines how many U.S. House seats each state will have. If immigrants, who largely live in urban areas, are significantly undercounted, some states may lose seats, including at least one in California, some predict.
In 2010, the Census Bureau for the first time sent bilingual English-Spanish forms to areas with a significant undocumented population and spent $13 billion overall on the count. We can only hope Congress and the courts don’t let the administration reverse that progress and take us back to the 1950s for mere political gain.