By the time this paper reaches newsstands, the Supreme Court of the United States may have already decided the Department of Commerce vs. New York. The case involves a challenge to the Census Bureau’s inclusion of a question on the 2020 census about US citizenship. The Trump Administration, in this instance represented by Department of Commerce head Wilbur Ross, favors inclusion of the question on the census. Those against the inclusion of the question argue that it discriminates against non-citizens, particularly Hispanics, and that it will diminish the accuracy the population count in certain areas as some residents (presumably those who feel discriminated against by a citizenship question) elect not to participate in the census questionnaire.
This issue, once decided, will favor one side or the other of the partisan divide. Here is why.
The census is a process mandated by the US Constitution by which the Congressional districting process begins. Congressional seats are assigned proportionally according to population, whether they are citizens or not. Electoral votes allocated to each state are proportional to the number of Congressional seats. Therefore, the population distribution reported by the 2020 Census will set the political map for the 2022 Congressional election, the 2024 Presidential election and so forth until the 2030 Census results are tabulated. It will also inform the distribution of federal assistance programs like Medicaid, Medicare Part B, and SNAP (food stamps).
During the past decade and, most notably, during Trump’s administration, there has been a battle over the large population of non-citizens resident in the United States. While there may be practical issues against this population in conflict with humanitarian issues, there are also meaningful political issues. The majority of non-citizens entering the United States at the Southern border ends up in just ten states. The top three states are California, Texas and Florida. Democrat-controlled California welcomes this population with sanctuary state protections and Medi-Cal. Texas and Florida, traditionally red states, are battling the prospect of this population influx flipping red districts blue. So illegal immigration would have the dual effect of supporting California’s population and thus preserving its contribution to the US House of Representatives and changing the demographics of Florida and Texas. While there may be a list of social justice arguments to protect illegal aliens, I have no doubt that, in the near term, the elevation of this issue is in anticipation of the 2020 Census.
Will it really all boil down to a simple question? Including the question of whether or not you are a citizen of the United States on the US Census is an extended debate happening at taxpayer expense. After all, this is, once again, a case of one government entity (or entities) suing another. Mostly to further political agendas, not to benefit the US citizen.
The question of citizenship has been included in every Census from 1890 to 1950. Then it was retained on the long form of the Census until the 2010 Census when the long form was eliminated. It is a useful question, no doubt. It is useful to candidates for office (remember: there are hundreds of elected offices in each county) and it is useful to understand the nature of the demographics of an area. While some may be concerned that it will cause residents without status to not participate in the census and thus undercount that population, this could be remedied with an education campaign informing all participants that the information will not be used against them.
Given how our government has been so very lax about protecting our rights to privacy, they are unusually vigilant about a citizenship question. Sometimes you have to wonder, do the opposite sides of the aisle fight just to waste our money?