The decision by the Department of Commerce late on Monday to add a question about U.S. citizenship to the 2020 Census has drawn some stiff backlash. Mere hours after the decree, the state of California filed suit against the U.S. government in an attempt to reverse the decision. Thirteen states followed suit, filing legal claims rebuking the decision as one that threatens to skew all Census data for areas with high hispanic populations.
The White House and prominent Republicans don’t see the addition of the question as a big deal, labeling the move as one that will help collect another stream of data focused specifically on exact citizenship statistics. Critics of that stance point to the propensity for data that determines congressional districts and federal funding for regions across the country to be misrepresentative due to a lack of participation by immigrants, both legal and illegal. The predicted lack of participation is born out of fear of what a government that has already unfairly targeted those communities would do with their information.
While the Census Bureau isn’t allowed to share the private information it gathers, distinct changes in practice and philosophy under President Trump, especially in the areas of immigration reform and enforcement, have been enough to instill such fears in marginalized communities.
Knowing these sentiments, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Sen. Marco Rubio issued defenses of the decision that did little to strengthen the foundation of the White House’s argument for its inclusion.
On Tuesday, Sanders stated that the citizenship question has “been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed.” That statement is wrong in multiple ways. The Census is conducted every 10 years, meaning there was no Census conducted in 1965. Even if it had been, it wouldn’t have included a citizenship question because the last time the U.S. Census included a question regarding citizenship was in 1950. After that year, the citizenship question was moved to the long-form Census questionnaire that was delivered to far fewer households, one in six, rather than the more traditional short-form questionnaire most Americans receive. In 2005, the citizenship question moved to other data collection surveys, such as the American Community Survey, which are administered yearly on a smaller scale.
Rubio took to Twitter on Wednesday to defend the addition of the question, stating that including illegal immigrants in analytics that determine congressional districts “dilutes the political representation of citizens and legal residents.”
Rubio’s argument sounds more nuanced than the blatant falsity from Sanders, but it chooses not to focus on how the provision will affect not just those here illegally, but also non-citizens who are here legally. Rubio’s statement neglects the fundamental reason for the Census: to accurately gauge and analyze the population of the country. According to Rubio, the Census should be for calculating the citizen and non-citizen populations, and then excluding the non-citizen statistics from the government’s determination of political representation.
Beyond that conflation, Rubio’s sentiment further embraces the exclusion of anyone who might fear what the government could do with their information. He doesn’t realize that such fears don’t target illegal aliens exclusively and could skew the analytics for areas with large hispanic communities, which just happen to be urban areas and Democratic-leaning states.
These precise examples of misinformation and shifting the focus are why 14 states are suing the government, and we can only hope that they are successful, as the corruption of the Census could have dire consequences long after Trump and his supporters are out of office.