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“Is This Person a US Citizen?” A Census Question That Spells Trouble

picture of magnifying glass looking at diverse population
Pic via pixabay

A new question on the 2020 census questionnaire has become a heated political debate that experts say could affect federal funding apportionment and congressional representation. The question is: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

This the first time that the census would ask about citizenship. Supporters of the new question argue counting for total population instead of the citizen population unfairly favors larger urban areas that have more illegal immigrants. A number of recent court cases have challenged this perceived unfairness, but now a new wave of lawsuits are challenging the legality and unfairness of the new census question.

Implications of Asking About Citizenship on US Census

Some of the implications of the question could include undercounting for immigrants which could lead to a loss of federal funds for some cities and states. There could also be a change in power across the country, as some cities and states could lose congressional seats and seats in state legislative districts.

The Trump administration says the rationale behind collecting the new data is to allow the Department of Justice to enforce the Voting Rights Act. But some political analysts are skeptical of the government’s motivation. States and organizations challenging the new question see it as a political move and worry it would redefine the government’s definition of ‘the people.’

“If the day comes that one of these suits succeeds in court, the 2020 count would provide the data to allow states to implement a redefinition of ‘the people,’ ” said Taeku Lee, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, to the New York Times.

Even the courts are considering the consequences of the question, using existing government data to calculate what should happen if non-American citizens are not included in the census program. Economic experts say the main effect of this matter is that the strength of the most populous cities and states where legislative and congressional representation are concerned.

“I believe all these subjects are open to change, depending on who’s on the court,” said John Logan, a sociologist at Brown University. “The courts are very politicized today. And the census is becoming a political tool.”

The New York Times found that if 15 percent of noncitizens went uncounted, it would be enough to cost California and New York one congressional seat each, to the benefit of Colorado and Montana. By removing all non-citizens the effect would be even more drastic, seven seats would move. California would lose four congressional seats and Florida, New York and Texas would each lose one. Gaining one seat each would be Louisiana, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, and Minnesota.

Critics of the census warn the most notable effects would occur within states themselves as districts are re-drawn and urban areas lose representation.

A Politicized US Census

In one lawsuit before the Supreme Court two years ago, the court ruled that Texas was allowed to draw their districts by total population if it chose to do so but did not comment on whether it must do so or whether other qualifications can be used to determine equal representation.

Alabama is also currently suing the U.S. Department of Commerce for using total population figures “robbing” residents of “their rightful share of political representation,” the state argued. (The New York Times reported King County, which includes Seattle, and Santa Clara County in California have lined up in the case to argue the opposite.)

“I believe all these subjects are open to change, depending on who’s on the court,” said John Logan, a sociologist at Brown University. “The courts are very politicized today. And the census is becoming a political tool.”

As the census becomes politicized, the repercussions are varied and could backfire for conservative movements. If the conversation of equality of representation shifts to issues like the electoral college, where representation unfairly favors rural populations over urban populations, or statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Nana Khan August 5, 2018

    We all refuse to answer?

    Reply
  2. Robert Strauss August 5, 2018

    Asking is a good thing. 1) getting an accurate count for representatives and 2) an accurate count for federal funding

    Reply
  3. moreau Russia & Linux fan August 9, 2018

    My family has been in America since 1640, Southern US since 1726, and Louisiana since 1740, but I wi… https://t.co/yo6ScjnoNE

    Reply
  4. Robert Strauss August 9, 2018

    Counting non-citizens leads to a higher portion of Gov money to that district.

    Reply

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