Citizenship check on census is political and hurtful

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In this March 15, 2010, file photo, copies of the 2010 Census forms in Phoenix. The 2020 U.S. Census will add a question about citizenship status, a move that brought swift condemnation from Democrats who said it would intimidate immigrants and discourage them from participating. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

In this March 15, 2010, file photo, copies of the 2010 Census forms in Phoenix. The 2020 U.S. Census will add a question about citizenship status, a move that brought swift condemnation from Democrats who said it would intimidate immigrants and discourage them from participating. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Every 10 years, the United States does something very special. We count every single individual within the country through a survey and then use that information to figure out representation, federal funding and other important issues. You’ve probably heard of it before – it’s called the United States Census and the country will fill out the next one in 2020. This time around, it’s going to bring a throwback question that hasn’t been used since 1950. In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration has decided to add a question to the 2020 census that will ask participants whether or not they are American citizens. This move is wholly unnecessary and will cause more problems than benefits to vulnerable populations across the country.

The United States Constitution doesn’t have many laws or requirements built in. It acts more as a framework that gives a general structure for laws to be built on top of based on different interpretations of that framework. One of the few things it does require, however, is the census which is literally a counting of all the people living in the United States. There has been controversy surrounding its use in the past including it’s undercounting of African-Americans and the way it was used to intern Japanese-Americans, German-Americans and Italian-Americans during World War II. In response to the Trump administration’s decision, California and New York are suing them in order to bring back a fair census.

Let’s think about the point of the census carefully. It tells the government where individuals live and helps sort them by certain demographics. Using this information, lawmakers can make sure that required funding and representation is going to communities that need it. It can also be used harmfully, in terms of its potential for gerrymandering. But by-and-large, the census is not a political tool.

You know what shouldn’t be a political issue but has become one? Undocumented immigration. Even in past administrations, these people lived in fear that they could be arrested and deported even though they were contributing to society. You know which party has been very vocal on calling for the arrest and deportation of these undocumented immigrants? The party of the man whose administration is calling for the change to the census.

Critics fear that this change will cause a lower turnout because people will be scared to disclose their status. This could come back to hurt many communities because accurate information on population size will not be relayed to the federal government. While it is required by law for U.S. citizens to fill out the census, the law doesn’t apply to undocumented immigrants. And it’s understandable why undocumented immigrants wouldn’t want to fill out the census under these new rules. The country has already seen how aggressively Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been sweeping across the country and working to get rid of these undocumented immigrants regardless of how important they are to their communities. Hell even our veterans aren’t safe from ICE. There is a very high chance that ICE will find some way to get that census data and use it to attack immigrants.

There are absolutely no benefits to asking about citizenship on the census which might be why the past six directors of the United States Census Bureau said it was a bad idea. The only apparent reason for doing this change seems to be a need by Trump to retaliate against those who fighting his horrible policy choices and a need by the Republicans to figure out a way to gain more seats now that gerrymandering is off the table.     

The Constitution is not some kind of partisan political tool, it’s an important part of the American democracy. If the Republicans and the president can’t figure that out, then maybe it’s time for them to resign.


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.

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