As far as Democrats and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media are concerned, there’s only one reason the Trump administration is trying to include a question about citizenship on the next census. The Department of Commerce is being widely depicted as solely interested in undercounting Hispanics and minorities, who, Trump critics say, will be discouraged from participating in the constitutionally mandated process by which the government counts the number of people in the United States.
In doing so, liberals accuse Republicans of trying to artificially depress the count to deprive urban areas of much-needed federal funds and wrongly skew the figures to lower the number of House of Representative seats in states where minorities predominate.
That was the conceit of the plaintiffs’ arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court when the suit brought by several states against the government over the inclusion of a citizenship question was heard this week. While this fits in with the narrative seeking to depict the Trump administration as incorrigibly racist (and Republicans as cynically partisan), this approach to the question actually turns the truth on its head.
Far from being immoral, let alone illegal, by trying to prevent the government from finding out whether census respondents are citizens, it is Democrats who are seeking to exploit the process to advance their political agenda.
Does Citizenship Need to be Included?
Administration critics have harped on what they say is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s questionable assertion that the decision to include citizenship on the forms was prompted by the needs of the Department of Justice for enforcing the Voting Rights Act. The correspondence between the two departments seems to indicate that Commerce was looking to get support for its desire to count citizens from Justice, rather than the other way around.
But whether or not Ross was entirely candid about the origins of the discussion, the administration isn’t wrong to worry about the implications of the census on their legal mandate to ensure a “one person, one vote” standard for the process of determining representation in Congress. Instead of an attempt to undercount Hispanics and minorities, what is really at stake in this debate is Democrats’ effort to blur the line between citizens and non-citizens to create or maintain House districts where those who are legally unable to vote will exist in large numbers or even predominate. Legal voters (who would presumably be more likely to be Democrats) in such districts would wield more power than those in other districts in which there are far fewer non-citizens.
Thus, rather than ensuring fairness—or foiling a GOP plot to cheat Democrats out of seats that are rightfully theirs—an effort to maximize the count of non-citizens is actually about preserving modern versions of “rotten boroughs.” That’s the phrase that described British parliamentary districts controlled by a handful of voters in contrast with those with more numerous electors that existed before historic reforms swept such abuses away in the mid-19th century.
It’s a Perfectly Reasonable Thing to Ask
If the conservative majority on the Supreme Court isn’t swayed by the arguments of the plaintiffs, it’s also because that instead of sabotaging the census, inquiring about citizenship is a reasonable, even traditional approach, to counting the population. Part of the controversy rests on the notion of how much Ross’s department is departing from existing practices in the United States or in other democracies, as some members of the Supreme Court pointed out during this week’s oral arguments.
It is true that a question about citizenship has not been on the short form that most Americans received during the last six censuses dating back to 1960. But it was included as late as 1950. Yet citizenship has never been absent from the long form that a smaller number of Americans receive. Moreover, it is also on other government questionnaires that occur outside of the normal census process, such as the annual American Community Survey.
What’s also obvious is that knowing the number of citizens, as opposed to legal or illegal aliens, is pertinent information. The number of non-citizens in the United States is generally estimated to be about 22 million, with approximately half here illegally. An accurate count of such persons matters, and inquiring about it when you’re counting people is hardly intrusive or an abuse, let alone illegal, as previous court challenges to various questions have reaffirmed.
Reluctance to Answer Could Affect Count
Nevertheless, Democrats are probably right when they say illegal aliens as well as legal immigrants who are not citizens but may be living with those that are here without permission may be reluctant to answer the census. That could impact the numbers and, as Democrats fear, undercount areas with heavy concentrations of illegal immigrants, making it harder for local governments to receive federal aid. Even more important than that, it could result in states with large numbers of illegal immigrants not getting as many congressional districts as they might have if every person—legal and illegal—were included in the count.
The problem with that argument is that it is highly unlikely that illegal aliens are interested in or willing to fill out census questionnaires, or any government survey, even if the word “citizen” were banished from the form. Illegal immigrants (and even those with legal resident status) tend to be nervous, for understandable reasons, about doing anything that might attract attention from the government. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous. That’s why the number of illegal immigrants shunning the census even if it includes a question about citizenship isn’t likely to be any greater than the total of those who did so in 2010 when there was no such question.
The second point is just as obvious. Including massive numbers of illegals in the count so as to ensure that states with large number of illegal immigrants get maximum representation in the House is inherently fraudulent.
The goal of the census is to count every person residing in the country. But the notion that its purpose is to ensure that those who are subject to deportation are as entitled to representation in Congress as U.S. citizens is as bizarre as it is untenable. It also makes a mockery of the principle of “one person, one vote” that is at the core of the Voting Rights Act.
‘One Person, One Vote’ Is Fair Play
Once you sweep away the hyperbole of the Democrats’ accusations about the census, it’s easy to see this debate is not much different from controversies about voter ID laws. What liberals are doing here is taking a reasonable, even anodyne measure, that, if presented to the American people would receive almost universal support (as is the case with polling about voter ID laws, which, according to Gallup, show that 81 percent of whites and 77 percent of non-whites back them) are treated as a plot against minorities and the left.
No matter what Democratic attorney generals say in court, most voters are likely to think there’s nothing unreasonable about asking census respondents if they are citizens. Although, as with their attacks on voter ID laws, Democrats deny they are seeking to facilitate wrongdoing, it is far from unreasonable to see their attempt to suppress the citizenship question as seeking to pave the way for illegal immigrants to not only be counted but also to vote.
That was made clear by statements by Stacey Abrams, now considered one of the Democratic Party’s rock stars despite her failure to win the Georgia governor’s race last November. Speaking last October, Abrams said the “blue wave” that would sweep through the country would consist, among other groups, of “those who have been told they are not worthy of being here. It is comprised of those who are documented and undocumented.” Abrams doubled down on that position in an NPR interview in January in which she said she favored giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.
The goal of counting illegal aliens in the census is, as with the sanctuary city movement and the decision of states like California to give illegal immigrants the ability to get drivers’ licenses, not about accuracy or fairness but about blurring the legitimate distinction between citizens and non-citizens to advance an agenda of amnesty.
While the administration’s opponents are cloaking themselves in the language of equal rights and an accurate count, their goal is to weaponize the population of illegal immigrants to skew the census and increase Democrats’ power. The Supreme Court should not let them get away with it.