The Political Battle Over Citizenship in the Census By Nicky Riordan
The upcoming 2020 census is immeasurably important to both political parties, and recent developments in the formation of the questionnaire show that the race is now on to gain the upper hand. The Commerce Department, which determines the final questions to be included in the census, sparked controversy by adding a question about citizenship status just days before the final deadline. Questions about citizenship haven’t been part of the official census in 70 years, and most voting rights experts agree this is a move that will have detrimental effects on redistricting representation and federal funding allocation.
It is no secret that many blue states that have drawn ire from the Trump Administration also have a large population of immigrants that could be deterred from the census altogether if a question like this is included. Leaving out large swaths of the population will result in these states, including the country's most populated ones, such as New York and California, receiving less resources and funding from the federal government on many fronts, including Medicaid reimbursement and infrastructure needs.
According to The George Washington Institute of Public Policy, a recent preliminary analysis indicates that “about 300 federal programs geographically allocate over $800 billion a year based on census-derived statistics. The impacts of improper counting in some states could be fiscally catastrophic.
The Trump Administration and the Justice Department have not been shy about their intention to punish states that protect immigrants from scrutiny or deportation, whether through suing California for their sanctuary state policies or threatening to withhold other sources of funding; and according to officials with the Commerce Department, the addition of this question came through the request of the Justice Department. California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, did not waste time responding to what is being perceived as a veiled escalation of tactics, and has already indicated that the state will be filing a legal challenge to this latest move.
Other Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi are speaking out as well, described this decision as an attempt to “inject fear and distrust into vulnerable communities and cause traditionally undercounted communities to be even further under-represented, financially excluded and left behind”.
It is not lost on Democrats that the 2020 census will be a key tool in the effort to undo a decade of painful redistricting and unprecedented losses across the country. Upon redistricting after the 2010 census, Republicans were able to maintain a 33-seat majority in the House in 2012 while receiving 1.4 million fewer votes than Democrats, an issue that has inspired the post-Administration work of former Attorney General Eric Holder. He described the addition of a citizenship question as an attack on representative democracy and vowed to also challenge legally through his organization that aims to improve voting rights and enfranchisement.
Recent developments suggest that the census in 2020 is quickly becoming the latest partisan fight in a period of hyper partisanship.
Nicky Riordan, Political Analyst, Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research