Weaponizing the Census

boy in flag

Photo fro April 2006 march in St. Paul, MN

Are you a citizen?

That’s a question the census has not asked since 1950, but the Commerce Department announced this week that it will be asked in 2020. The Trump administration says that asking about citizenship will somehow help them track virtually non-existent voter fraud. A more plausible explanation is that the administration is weaponizing the census to reinforce its own political power.

Many immigrants will duck the census, afraid of giving any information that could lead ICE to them or to family members. Census information is confidential, but that confidentiality has been breached in the past. One vivid example: census data was used to round up Japanese Americans during World War II. 

UPDATE: Vox: “During World War II, the Census Bureau helped the government round up Americans of Japanese ancestry into internment camps by telling the government how many Japanese Americans were in a given area (thus avoiding telling them about individuals per se). But experts generally believe that the legal restrictions, which have been strengthened since then, wouldn’t allow that sort of thing again.”)

Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum summarized the outcomes:

“The question most will ask: What are the political consequences? The question that needs to be asked: What cities and towns have the most to lose? I would argue that it is fast changing small cities and towns in the South and Midwest that have the most to lose. If their immigrant residents aren’t counted, their communities lose significant federal funding. So, in the end, the administration could be harming their own base. All to say, Mr. President, just because you don’t count an immigrant family doesn’t mean the immigrant family isn’t there.”

Minnesota is one of the ten states with the fastest growing immigrant populations, which means Minnesota is one of the states that stands to lose the most from an undercount.

In other news:

  • Trump now proposes denying citizenship or legal residence to legally admitted immigrants who take legally available tax deductions.
  • More Minnesota immigrants are asking Congressional offices for help. (Do you think Trump will penalize that, too?)
  • Another immigration raid in Florida.

If Census asks about citizenship, some already have an answer: No comment (New York Times, 3/27/18)

Ms. Queveda, the mother of a 14-year-old American boy, is not about to step out of her house to participate in a census that inquires whether she herself is a citizen.

“I would never answer, because I don’t have papers,” the 46-year-old native of Guatemala said as she set out for a walk in the Hollywood Hills on Tuesday morning, a husky and German shepherd in tow. “Obviously, I am afraid. I have a son.”…

“The immigrant community, documented or not, will think twice before sharing information with the government,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., who deemed the citizenship question “data-based fearmongering.”

“Advocates said that immigrants feared they could face deportation if their information was turned over to immigration authorities.”

How Trump could turn the 2020 Census into a political weapon (Vanity Fair, 3/27/18)

The weaponization of the Census underscores how even the most technical, bureaucratic processes underlying democratic governance have become twisted by partisan warfare. Beyond the matter of Democratic or Republican control of state legislatures, and the congressional districts they draw, are life-and-death questions for a 21st-century, data-driven nation: how many people live where, and in what circumstances; the age and distribution of populations that are vulnerable to potential epidemics; the economic effects of pollution and climate change; how resources should be allocated to combat poverty and reduce crime. “The Census Bureau operates carefully when it comes to changing the decennial census or any of the numerous surveys,” University of Florida politics professor Michael McDonald tweeted on Tuesday. “They field test changes to estimate effects. Sec. Ross made a decision without any such testing.

California, NY sue Trump administration over addition of citizenship question to census (Washington Post, 3/27/18)

The suits are just the start of what is likely to be a broader battle with enormous political stakes that pits the administration against many Democratic states, which believe that the citizenship question will reduce the response rate for the census and produce undercounts. As a result, opponents say, states with significant immigrant populations stand to lose seats in state legislatures and Congress, along with electoral college votes in presidential elections and federal funding based on census counts….

“It is long settled that all persons residing in the United States — citizens and non-citizens alike — must be counted to fulfill the Constitution’s ‘actual Enumeration’ mandate,” the lawsuit stated. Becerra also argued the move violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s prohibition against “arbitrary and capricious” agency action.
“The census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade,” Becerra said in a statement. “California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump Administration to botch this important decennial obligation. What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count.”

Opinion: Citizenship question on 2020 census may result in an undercount (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/26/18)

“The size of your child’s kindergarten class. Homeland security funds for your community. Natural disaster preparation. Highway and mass transit resources. Health care and emergency room services.

“Vital services such as these would be jeopardized and our voice in government diminished if the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 count resulted in an undercount. Beyond its constitutional role in redistricting, a proper count conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau shapes our everyday lives.”

Demographer: Question will hurt census accuracy (Albert Lea Tribune, 3/28/18)

Susan Brower said Tuesday research shows fear about the population count taken every 10 years keeps people from responding, and those fears are often highest among immigrants.

“Minnesota has seen waves of Somali and Hmong immigrants boost its population. Brower said even legal immigrants are concerned about giving the government more information….

Susan Brower said Tuesday research shows fear about the population count taken every 10 years keeps people from responding, and those fears are often highest among immigrants.

Minnesota has seen waves of Somali and Hmong immigrants boost its population. Brower said even legal immigrants are concerned about giving the government more information.

In other news

Trump proposal would penalize immigrants who use tax credits and other benefits (Washington Post, 3/28/18) What’s more American than taking advantage of every possible tax deduction and credit and benefit? Now the Trump administration proposes that any immigrant who takes that all-American route could be denied residence or citizenship. Not “illegal” immigrants—all immigrants. All hard-working, tax-paying immigrants who take legally available tax benefits will be penalized.

Immigrants who accept almost any form of welfare or public benefit, even popular tax deductions, could be denied legal U.S. residency under a proposal awaiting approval by the Trump administration, which is seeking to reduce the number of foreigners living in the United States.”

The changes would be made as administrative rule-making, without needing any Congressional authorization. 

As policies shift, more immigrants and refugees in Minnesota turn to Congressional offices for help (MinnPost, 3/28/18)

The congressional offices started seeing the uptick in January 2017, immediately after the administration rolled out an executive order barring of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an action that ignited confusion and fear among thousands refugees and immigrants in Minnesota….

Constituent service offices also assist people in opening lines of communication with federal agencies when needed. That becomes particularly important when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency detains someone. In many cases, ICE might not immediately share with the family the exact whereabouts of the detainee. If this happens, said Hill, Klobuchar’s office will work with the family or an attorney to help facilitate a conversation with the agency.” 

Homeland Security raids a Florida business and arrests 28 undocumented immigrants (Miami Herald, 3/28/18)

CBS12 reports that agents served a search warrant at 9 a.m. to TentLogix, a tent rental company that provides large scale items for events.” 

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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