“Are you a citizen of the United States?”—That is the question that will be added to the mandatory 2020 census if the Supreme Court decides to uphold another of the Trump Administration’s racist anti-immigrant initiatives as it did with Trump’s “Muslim ban.” There are an estimated 11 million undocumented people in the US, and 26 million immigrants who are considered legal but are not citizens. This is nothing other than an effort to intimidate this huge section of the population so that they do not fill out this survey that is crucial to political representation and budgeting for social services.
Given the track record of the U.S. government, with its racist history of deportations, incarceration and family separations under both the Democratic and Republican parties, the citizenship question on the census is sure to incite anxieties and fear among immigrants who are repeatedly scapegoated by politicians for mass unemployment and poverty that are in fact products of the capitalist economic system. Regardless of what the Census Bureau claims, many who rightfully do not trust a government that only recently sent thousands of troops to the border to stop Central American asylum seekers worry that the census data would be shared with immigration authorities, giving way to their harassment by federal agents, or deportation.
The citizenship question would diminish political representation for areas with large immigrant communities because census data is used to determine the number of representatives states get in the House of Representatives and draw legislative districts within states. Low census responses could mean less congressional seats for states with significant immigrant populations. Census data is also used to divvy up electoral college votes that determine the outcome of presidential elections.
The initial request to add the citizenship question came in 2017 from the Department of Justice, which claimed that it wanted the question added to determine if the Voting Rights Act was being enforced as it should, out of concern for voter suppression for Black and Latino communities across the country. This was a dubious claim that was found to be untruthful based on the release of a written memo that showed that the Secretary of Commerce, who was appointed by Trump, and his staff asked the DoJ to submit the formal request. Voter suppression for oppressed communities is built into the DNA of the U.S. political system, and it is despicable that officials would use their bogus concern for racial discrimination to push forward a census initiative that is racially motivated and would further marginalize people of oppressed nationalities.
Low turnout for the 2020 census at the state level due to the presence of the citizenship question would also affect the distribution of federal funding to states. On the basis of census results, the federal government distributes more than $800 billion in funds for more than 300 federal programs and social services, from community health centers to schools and infrastructure. A low census turnout would leave many struggling working class communities in immigrant-dominant states with fewer resources. Already, undocumented immigrants contribute billions in taxes towards benefits they can’t access.
The Trump administration’s attempt to include the question on a census form was challenged at district level courts of so-called “blue states,” like California, New York, and Maryland, which ruled against the inclusion of the question in the 2020 census in the face of multiple lawsuits. Dept. of Commerce v. New York, the case that will determine the legality of including or excluding the question, was expedited to the Supreme Court in an unusual manner upon request from the Trump administration.
The unelected Supreme Court, which now has a clear right wing majority, appeared to be leaning towards a 5-4 split in favor of the policy after hearing oral arguments in late April. The final ruling is expected by late June.
But the courts and even the Trump administration itself are not immune to political pressure. We will continue to take to the streets to demand rights for all immigrants, not more racist deportations, harassment and intimidation!