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New Census Citizenship Question Part of GOP Political Plan to Sow Fear, Suppress Votes and Undermine Democracy

 

The news that the Trump Administration is seeking to add a new question about citizenship status in the 2020 Census is a disturbing development that fits into a larger pattern of the Trump Administration and their Republican allies.

Civil rights advocates, constitutional scholars and voting experts alike were swift to denounce the news and its transparent and chilling motivations and implications:

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President and CEO Vanita Gupta (full statement here): “The president’s support for this unnecessary, untested question is just one more example of this administration’s hostility toward immigrants and people of color. Secretary Ross testified today before Congress that the Constitution requires a count of every person in the United States, including non-citizens, but that statement of fact is not enough. Adding a new, untested question at this late hour will devastate the likelihood of a fair and accurate census. We urge the secretary to stand firm against pressure from the president’s re-election campaign to disrupt and politicize the census.”

Voting rights expert and journalist Ari Berman: “Trump admin planning to rig 2020 census by adding citizenship question to give Republicans more power. This is now greatest threat to democracy in US.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder: “”The addition of a citizenship question to the census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy. Make no mistake — this decision is motivated purely by politics. In deciding to add this question without even testing its effects, the administration is departing from decades of census policy and ignoring the warnings of census experts.

Wendy Weiser, Brennan Center: “Our Constitution requires a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the country, no matter her or his citizenship status. The administration’s decision to add a citizenship question is at best a dramatic misstep, and at worst a politically-motivated move that will undermine a fair and accurate census. This question is a dangerous move that could lead to a serious skewing of the final census results, which would have a deleterious effect on our system of representative democracy. We urge the administration to reconsider.”

NALEO Educational Fund Executive Director Arturo Vargas (full statement here): “The stakes are too high for a failed 2020 Census, and we will not sit idly by as those with malice intentions seek to thwart a fair and accurate count of immigrants, Latinos and all Americans.  The fight has just begun, and we will not stop until we have exhausted all avenues to provide the Census Bureau with the fix and certainty it needs to tackle its most ambitious task yet, counting the largest American population in history.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla: “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  … This request is an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes. Since the first day of his presidential campaign and through his first year in office, President Trump has targeted immigrants: vilifying them and attempting to exclude them from the country. Think travel bans, repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, ramped up Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that tear parents away from their children. Immigrants and their loved ones understandably are, and will be, concerned about how data collected in the 2020 Census will be used.”

Five former directors of the Census Bureau expressed strong opposition (per a recap from Ari Berman at Mother Jones): “Five former directors of the Census Bureau, who served under presidents of both parties, told me they opposed the citizenship question and wrote a letter to [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross expressing their opposition, saying it would lead to an unfair and inaccurate total count. ‘It would be a horrendous problem for the Census Bureau and create all kind of controversies,’ said Steve Murdock, who ran the census under George W. Bush. Ken Prewitt, who ran the census under Bill Clinton, said, ‘It is simply inconceivable to me there would not be a very high level of anxiety around that question.’ Vincent Barabba, who ran the census under Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter, called the addition of the question ‘beyond comprehension at this point. It would be really bad.’”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

This is an attack who we are as a country and how we operate as a democracy. In America our Constitution protects all persons, not just citizens. That is because welcoming refugees and immigrants to our nation is a defining feature of our past, present and future. That is because we are nation whose motto speaks powerfully to the idea of inclusion: “Out of Many, One.” That is because we are a diverse nation that is engaged in a remarkable and unfinished project — to forge a nation just, equal and free. Being counted as part of the nation is not some technical or bureaucratic issue; it’s about counting as a member of our society. Unfortunately, this announcement is but another plank in the Trump Administration’s war against immigrants and another example of its open hostility to representative democracy in America. Having the federal government inquire about citizenship status will sow fear among immigrant families, suppress votes and participation in American civic life among people of color, and put the thumb on the scale of democracy to undermine the political power of diverse communities. The decision needs to be reversed.