Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census?

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Are YOU a U.S. citizen?

I tried really, really hard to not get cynical about this debate over including a question about U.S. citizenship on the upcoming U.S. Census. I failed.

The Republicans say a citizenship question is necessary to ensure that the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act are properly implemented. That act forbids “denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Without the question, Republicans say, states would be enabled to more easily gerrymander voting districts to dilute the voting strength of minorities.

When I first read that logic, I had a hard time understanding the connection. Seemed like a bit of a stretch to me. Still does. And now, even the Supreme Court agrees that the reasoning “appears to have been contrived.”

But then… I consider the fact that the Democrats are opposed to the citizenship question. So that would mean Democrats are less concerned about protecting the voting rights of minorities than the Republicans, which would be grossly out of step with their normal rhetoric. But of course, that’s not what the Democrats say. What they do say is the question will scare both legal and illegal immigrants and reduce their participation in the census. The resulting undercount, they note, would generate abnormal and unfair redistricting and shift political power in favor of the Republicans.

So let me get this straight. The Republicans want the citizenship question to help prevent any monkey-business via gerrymandering. On the other hand, the Democrats do not want the citizenship question …to help prevent any monkey-business via gerrymandering.

This is where my cynicism kicks in. Blow away all the smoke generated by all the media coverage, and it boils down to preventing gerrymandering that will aid the other party. Nobody wants gerrymandering that will aid the other party. Everybody wants gerrymandering that will aid their own party.

So to be clear – cynically clear perhaps – but clear nonetheless; the debate about the citizenship question is all about doing everything possible to get candidates from my own party elected. In other words, it’s all about politicians seeking out more ways to grab more power and money. What a shock!

Let’s take a few steps back, examine the salient points in the history of the U.S. census, and see if we can reach a logical – non-cynical – conclusion about the wisdom of including a citizenship question on the 2020 version.

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The Constitution is the best place to start. Article I Section 2 lays out the determination of the number of representatives in the House of Representatives for each state, based on population, that is enumerated every 10 years, i.e., a decennial census. The 14th Amendment, ratified following the Civil War in 1868, modified it, most significantly to remove the portion that counted slaves as only 3/5 of a person.

Both Article I Section 2 and the 14th Amendment also included the phrase “…excluding Indians not taxed.” That exception was eliminated in 1924 when Congress formally granted citizenship to all Native Americans.

So… With that exception, beginning with the first census in 1790, We the People have counted up every man, woman and child in the country. Citizens and non-citizens, legal and illegal have been and still are counted.

A specific citizenship question was not included in the first three census counts. (Note that at that point in our history, the number of non-citizens living here was extremely minimal.) One was added in 1820 at the behest of Thomas Jefferson and has been in and out of the total of the 23 conducted to date. It’s been included 14 times and excluded 9 times. For 3 of those 14 (1970 through 2000), only a portion of the total number of questionnaires had the citizenship question.

In 2000 and 2010, the Census Bureau began conducting the annual American Community Survey for 1 in every 38 households. (That’s about 3%.) It includes not only a citizenship question – the exact same one as proposed by the current Administration – but also questions about race, sexual orientation, personal finances, medical conditions, child care and a bunch of other very, very personal stuff.

This mixed bag of in, then out, then in, then out, then in a different Census Bureau survey is clear proof 2 things:

  1. Inclusion of a citizenship question on the Constitutionally mandated decennial census has been controversial since the birth of the nation, and
  2. Since ratification of the Constitution and even more so since 1970, the Federal Government for damn sure wants to know how many citizens and non-citizens are living in the country.

As a side note, the United Nations recommends that its member countries ask a citizenship question on their census surveys.

Now let’s shift our attention to the purpose of the census; to why the Founding Fathers included it in the Constitution. The primary reason, as noted above, is to apportion the number of seats in the House of Representatives among the states. Since the number of Electoral College votes is based on the total number of Senators and Representatives in a given state, the census is also critical for all Presidential elections. The third significant reason has to do with money. Lots and lots of money. About $400 Billion of federal money every year gets allocated based on the census.

Have I mentioned power and money? Could it be any more clear that it’s the pursuit of political power and money that drives the citizenship question debate?

The equation is pretty simple. More people – not more citizens, but more people – legal or illegal – living in any given state means more representation in Congress for that state, more votes on national legislation, more electoral votes and more federal money.

So tell me if the following logic makes sense if you’re a Democrat, living in a Democrat-controlled state like California.

  1. Let’s declare ourselves a sanctuary state. (Done. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in October, 2017.)
  2. This makes California a safe space for “migrants” – Also Known As “undocumented immigrants” – AKA “illegal aliens.”
  3. This makes California a destination of choice – a veritable magnet – for the above
  4. The inflow of migrants/undocumented immigrants/illegal aliens will increase dramtically, which in turn will increase our population, representation in Congress, votes on national legislation, electoral votes and inflow of federal money.
  5. The migrants/undocumented immigrants/illegal aliens will LOVE, and therefore aggressively support and consistently vote for, we Democrats for getting them into this great country of ours, that’s filled with freedom along with free food, free medical care and all sorts of other free stuff.

Even the more thick-headed Republicans understand that last point. Is it conceivable that they would want to stem the flow of immigrants who will reap the benefits of the Democrat-supplied free stuff and vote accordingly or at minimum provide enthusiastic support? Let’s keep those voting districts leaning right so we don’t lose control of the House! Lo and behold, Republicans too are looking to suck up more power and money!

Then there’s this disturbing fact…

In the 1940s, the Census Bureau provided names and addresses of Japanese-Americans to the Secret Service which led to their internment.

(See this article in Scientific American. It’s creepy.)

At first, this fact led me conclude that asking a citizenship question on the Census is a really, REALLY bad idea. But then again, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service already has that information. As does the Department of Homeland Security, The Social Security Administration, the IRS, every voter registration system in the nation and who knows what other government agencies. Including, as noted earlier, the Census Bureau itself via its annual American Community Survey.

I don’t know what all this leads you to conclude about including a citizenship question on the 2020 census, but of course, I’m clear about what it leads me to conclude. I consider 6 factors to be important:

  1. The Constitution – Oddly, not relevant because it does not address the issue.
  2. Thomas Jefferson’s Opinion – He was brilliant. He advocated for a citizenship question. Include the citizenship question.
  3. Historical Precedent – It was included in 61% of the censuses to date; 70% if you don’t count the first 3 when there weren’t a significant number of non-citizens. Include the citizenship question.
  4. United Nations Recommendation – Include the citizenship question.
  5. Potential for Improper Use of the Information – Not relevant because it’s available from multiple other federal government sources.
  6. Increasing Influence of Non-Citizens on Election Outcomes – For me, this is THE key factor and it also says Include the citizenship question.

It is totally nuts to cede control of our own country’s destiny to citizens of other countries. If including the citizenship question provides a dis-incentive to participate in the census to some subset of legal and illegal, non-citizen residents, that’s unfortunate, but so be it. Those folks, by the way, will be committing a crime that carries a penalty of up to $5,000.

More importantly, illegal immigration is enough of a problem already. Providing a powerful incentive to encourage more of it is at best dumb, and at worst, a cynical strategy on the part of politicians to acquire more political power and money.

I’m your Intentionally Vicarious host Todd Youngblood; Still disgusted with politicians on both sides of the aisle for thinking they can dupe us and cover up their own personal ambition and pursuit of power and wealth; Firmly in favor of including the citizenship question on the census; And still having more fun than anyone else I know.

If this episode got your brain working and/or your blood pumping, please tell all your friends and colleagues about it.

Thanks for paying attention…


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