What’s Left: Questions of Citizenship Status in the Census

The 2010 midterm elections swept House Democrats out of power and with it their say in handling the information the 2010 Census found. The Census can seem like a boring, administrative feature of bureaucracy. Count the people. Redistrict accordingly. But its impact is much greater than that. The GOP’s control of the House led to unfair district lines being drawn, increasing polarization of our Congressional districts and gerrymandering. The 2020 Census is fast approaching. While the Democrats won the House in the 2018 midterms, that does not mean it is secured, especially in a presidential election year.

But besides gerrymandering, there is another major issue on the table this decade. The Trump administration is fighting to add a new question to the form: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

This is not a new question. From 1890 to 1950, the Census included a question regard- ing citizenship status. During that time, there was an influx of immigrants coming to America. The citizenship question disappeared on the 1960 Census, as it was clear that flux had been in decline for about 30 years.

Immigration rates have, however, been rising since 1970. Under another administration, I may have given them the benefit of the doubt that reestablishing the citizenship question was a matter of precedent and general interest. But Trump is our President, and his minions fill out the positions of his administration. He began his campaign calling Mexicans criminals, drug dealers and rapists. His presidency will be remembered for the horrific child separation policy at the border and the ruthless ICE raids. The administration claims that this question will help enforce the Voting Rights Act. But with his track record in immigration policy and clear racist bias against immigrants, I gather that Trump does not want to add this question to influence productive policy.

After being struck down by multiple lower courts, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on Tuesday, April 23. The legal argument against this question is that it prohibits the government from accurately counting every person in the country; thus it is unconstitutional to add it. I know that this is the angle lawyers must take, but Democrats should be taking a stand and presenting the moral argument for why this question cannot be added.

The moral argument is that we should not stand to live in a country where laws and governmental actions are rooted in distilling fear in people. We have seen the threat of deportation scare people away from going to court to seek justice after a crime was committed against them. We have seen children traumatized in an attempt to deter people from seeking asylum. The citizenship question is now another policy to intimidate people into hiding, further perpetuating an underground society of people who at the end of the day want nothing more than to work hard for a happy and safe life for their family, just like everyone else. We should not trust the Trump administration with statistical information about legal status.

In 1885, after his father died, 16-year-old Frederick Trumpf came to New York with no job prospects. He came for opportunity. Frederick barely spoke English and got a job as a barber. He lived in America seven years before he became a citizen. Two generations later, his grandson is President of the United States. I do not understand why Trump hates immigrants so much. He is the grandson of one. He has employed them throughout his business career. His willingness to make immigrants a political pawn, exploit their situations and fail to understand real comprehensive immigration policy is disgusting and disconcerting.

The United States is a country of immigrants, and we should not make people live in fear and in the shadows of society. The arguments on this case may be decided before this article is published, but I hope the judges can accept the legal argument against this census question. I hope Americans take notice of this question and fight for the moral argument as to why we cannot let this happen.

Contact Glynnis Harvey at [email protected].