Yes: The question allows government to properly disburse needed funds and services
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, at the request of the Justice Department, has instructed the U.S. Census Bureau to include a question on the 2020 decennial census asking whether the respondent is a U.S. citizen.
Such a request should be relatively uncontroversial, since census takers have been asking that question on one survey or another since the very first census. But these days, even the uncontroversial is controversial.
Most of the pushback is coming from the left, especially politicians and rent-seeking groups that thrive on redistributing taxpayer dollars. But such a question could be very helpful for those who work in public policy — for example, in counting the uninsured.
The Census Bureau included a citizenship question through 1950, stopping in 1960, as it sought ways to increase response rates. But the question was included on what is called the “long form” census in 1970, which went to fewer households.
In 2005, the citizenship question was added to the American Community Survey, an annual survey of a very small percentage of households.
Because the Census Bureau’s decennial census has not included a citizenship question for decades, analysts and elected officials do not know how many of the respondents are (1) citizens, (2) aliens in the U.S. legally, or (3) undocumented and in the U.S. illegally.
Thus, when the Census Bureau releases its annual survey of health coverage and the uninsured, it simply ignores how many of the uninsured are here illegally.
During healthcare reform debates in the past, some of us pointed out that perhaps 25 percent of the uninsured were undocumented aliens and so unlikely to be covered by health insurance reform efforts — and sure enough, Obamacare excluded illegals from receiving health insurance subsidies.
Even today, of the roughly 27.6 million (2016) uninsured, perhaps 8 million or so — a guestimate — are illegal immigrants ineligible for taxpayer subsidies. Very few of them are going to spend their own money, especially given the high cost of Obamacare coverage. They will simply remain uninsured.
And yet those pushing for some type of big-government solution to the uninsured — including those who backed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — use the larger uninsured number to make the problem look bigger than it is, or at least bigger than any likely legislative solution would address.
To be sure, the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey does ask a citizenship question. But while more frequent, those surveys are limited samples, about 3.5 million out of roughly 126 million households. The sample numbers are then extrapolated for the country as a whole. But even then, the bureau doesn’t include an estimate of the uninsured who are in the U.S. illegally.
The result is that estimating the number of uninsured who are illegal has mostly been a guessing game.
But the issue is not limited to the uninsured. The federal government funds a number of programs where taxpayer money supports illegal immigrants, either directly or indirectly. Knowing how many undocumented people are receiving those funds could help inform policy decisions.
Those opposing a citizenship question claim that the U.S. Constitution requires the government to count everyone who resides in the country, legally or not.
Ironically, these are mostly the same people who long ago abandoned the notion of a literal interpretation of the Constitution for what they call a “living Constitution,” defined as “one that evolves, changes over time, and adapts to new circumstances, without being formally amended.”
While a citizenship question might discourage some participation, the Census Bureau has increasingly used various methods, statistical and otherwise, to fill in the gaps.
Some form of a citizenship question has been around for two centuries. Stressing it once again would help take a little of the guesswork out of many of our public policy challenges.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation. He holds a PhD in the Humanities from the University of Texas. Readers may write him at IPI, Suite 820, 1320 Greenway Drive, Irving, TX, 75038.
No: Such questions don’t belong in a free country’s census
For the first time since the 1950 decennial census, the 2020 census will include a question on a respondent’s citizenship status.
The Trump administration enunciated some worrying plans for the 2020 census when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified before the Senate in 2017 that he wanted census data to be “strategically reused” by other government departments and the private sector.
The inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 census and the willingness of Ross and Trump to “re-use” census data for other purposes, including informing the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents where pockets of non-citizens are located — right down to 9-digit zip code addresses — is worrying.
Federal law prohibits sharing census data with other government agencies. For those who believe census data abuse cannot happen, it should be noted that it has already occurred — and quite recently — in the United States.
In 2004, DHS requested 2000 census data on Americans of Arab descent, right down to the 9-digit zip code level, that is, individual street addresses.
By sifting through such census data, DHS was able to calculate where the Arab-Americans lived, according to individual ancestral homelands of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Morocco as well as “other Arab nation” or generic Arab descent.
Using 1940 census data, the federal government rounded up some 120,000 Japanese-American citizens for internment during World War II.
Given the jingoistic and xenophobic hateful rhetoric emanating from Trump, other high-ranking officials and Republicans in Congress, the interest of Trump’s Census Bureau in collecting citizenship information can only have a malevolent intent.
The official reason given by the administration — that Attorney General Jeff Sessions requires citizenship data, so the Justice Department can adequately enforce the Voting Rights Act by determining who is eligible to vote — is laughable on its face.
Nothing in Sessions’s shameful record in Alabama of opposing civil rights and voting rights suggests he has had some sort of “sudden awakening” and now wants to assist African-Americans and other minorities to exercise their constitutional franchise.
Nor does Donald Trump’s repeated false statements claiming “millions” of non-citizens voted illegally in the 2016 election add any legitimacy to the inclusion of the citizenship question.
States and cities are right in fighting the Trump Administration’s unconstitutional citizenship question in federal court. At least seventeen states have filed lawsuits against the citizenship question. Former Census Bureau directors, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, have cautioned against asking about citizenship.
It is amazing that many conservatives, who constantly argue for a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, are willing to tamper with the framers’ original intent regarding the census.
Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution specifically states, an “Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of Ten Years.”
Enumeration, in this context, means a head count of the people living in the United States. The framers were not interested in citizenship status but wanted a clean headcount of people.
The name Jacques Fauvet is not known to many Americans. However, in France, Fauvet was known for perpetually warning against the misuse of census data.
Fauvet, who oversaw French data protection from 1984 to 1999, pointed out that when the German Nazis took over France in 1940, one of the first acts of the Gestapo was to seize as many detailed census records as possible.
From these records, the Nazis were able to construct their lists of who would be arrested and deported to the concentration camps in the east. Enough said!
A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Wayne Madsen is a progressive commentator whose articles have a appeared in a wide range of American and European newspapers. Readers may write him at 415 Choo Choo Lane, Valrico, FL 33594.