The U.S. Supreme Court should reject the Trump administration’s bid to add a citizenship question to the upcoming census. That question will undermine the census’ constitutionally mandated goal of accurately counting how many persons – not citizens – live in the United States.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department runs the census, contends the question is in response to a request from the Justice Department to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, a claim that three federal trial judges determined to be false. Ross failed to follow federal law and procedure when adding the question.
Yet the legal technicalities belie the deeper offense. President Donald Trump’s racism and nationalism are behind the question. “The American people deserve to know who is in this Country,” he tweeted after the Supreme Court arguments, followed by his usual fatuous, all-caps appeal to “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Experts, including career staff at the Census Bureau and former directors, point out that including a citizenship question will suppress participation. Many members of immigrant communities will avoid participation out of fear that the government will use the information to deport them or their friends.
The fear cuts across both documented and undocumented immigrants, not that it matters which as both are supposed to be counted. Nor is this just about immigrants from Central America. Immigrant communities from other parts of the world also sense danger and racism in the question.
If those people don’t participate, the “actual enumeration” that the Constitution demands will be inaccurate. Cities, counties and states with comparably larger immigrant populations will appear less populous. Those undercounts, in turn, will affect everything from federal funding to how many representatives communities get in statehouses and Congress.
Not coincidentally, states with greater numbers of immigrants, including Washington, tend to be blue states. And the nation will be stuck with those erroneous counts for a decade.
Despite all this, the high court’s conservative majority appeared to be leaning toward allowing the citizenship question in their questions. They even overlooked their normal aversion to foreign law, invoking the United Nations and other countries to justify their position.
If the Supreme Court chooses partisan gain over the Constitution, the best hope communities have is with education and outreach. Seattle, King County and the Seattle Foundation have dedicated $1 million to engaging historically undercounted populations.
More money likely will be needed before this is done. It is an investment in ensuring that the Puget Sound region and Washington get the representation they deserve, neither more nor less.