There’s a good chance of a change coming to your census form in 2020 and the Democrats aren’t too happy about it. The Commerce Department (which runs the census) received a request from the Justice Department last year to add a question identifying the recipient’s citizenship status. This was done to provide more solid figures regarding the total number of voting-age citizens so that the Voting Rights Act could be properly enforced.
This immediately led to the state Attorney General and Secretary of State of California (where else?) pumping out an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle decrying the move as racist, sexist and saying that (directly quoting them) “it is illegal.”
The Trump administration is threatening to derail the integrity of the census by seeking to add a question relating to citizenship to the 2020 census questionnaire. Innocuous at first blush, its effect would be truly insidious. It would discourage noncitizens and their citizen family members from responding to the census, resulting in a less accurate population count.
Including a citizenship question on the 2020 census is not just a bad idea — it is illegal.
The Constitution requires the government to conduct an “actual enumeration” of the total population, regardless of citizenship status. And since 1790, the census has counted citizens and noncitizens alike.
I’m not sure about the California Secretary of State, but the Attorney General is supposed to be a lawyer and something of an expert on the law, right? That makes it all the more remarkable that Xavier Becerra would come out and flatly make such an incredibly dubious claim. On what basis is he claiming that asking about citizenship status is “illegal” in this context? The only reference he cites is the constitutional requirement that the government conduct an “actual enumeration” of the population. Nobody is suggesting not sending census forms to illegals if they can be located or surveying them in the field. If they choose to take their chances by not returning the form, that’s on them. Further, NPR interviewed an actual expert on the history of the Census this week and he raised a number of issues about the citizenship question but never once suggested it would be illegal. Further, he pointed out that the American Community Survey asks more than three million people about their status every year and the full census did so up until 1950. Nobody said it was illegal then either. (The questions which are asked change every ten years, which is no big deal.)
So the illegality thing is a rather ignorantly crafted red herring. The real, more honest reason for Democrats’ objections can be found in a WaPo op-ed from Aaron Blake. This has nothing to do with legality for fairness. It simply holds the possibility of being bad news for Democrats. If too many illegals become nervous and refuse to send in their census forms, the population count for states with the most illegals (such as California) will go down. If it drops enough they’ll lose a representative in the House.
They’re also complaining about how a lower citizen count will reduce the amount of federal funding the state is entitled to for various programs. But how is that at all applicable? Government entitlement programs, for the most part, aren’t supposed to be used for illegal aliens to begin with. Much like the rest of this mess, the objections seem pointless. They’re talking about a lawsuit to block the question (of course) but it’s tough to see where it would have any merit. If the Commerce Department wants to go back to asking this question, they’re probably just going to do it. Now, if you want to have a debate about whether the census should be asking any questions beyond the number of people at any residence and their ages, I’ll be happy to take your side if you say no. The census has become a bloated and intrusive tool instead of a simple head count designed to calculate representation as it was originally envisioned. (There’s a reason that the requirement for enumeration was put in Article I, Section 2, you kinow…)