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The Citizenship Question

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 11:51


East Hampton and much of eastern Long Island may stand to lose out if the dream of the Trump administration to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census comes to pass. No matter where one stands on immigration policy, this plan should be reason for opposition. The United States Constitution directs that every 10 years, “the whole number of persons in each state” be counted. The Trump administration’s move would undermine one-person, one-vote, which American democracy in the ideal is supposed to represent.

Expert predictions are that asking people in the work force about their immigration status would lead to an undercount. The assumption is that individuals from Mexico, Latin America, and other countries would seek to avoid contact with the census when it comes in the mail or with a knock on the door for a variety of reasons, including fear of losing a job or being deported.

According to legal documents, the person behind adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census wrote that it would be a disadvantage for Democrats and advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites, a potential shift that he had been studying since 2015. This could change the balance of federal spending and political representation away from communities like ours and toward places that trended white.

This would be a potential disaster for much of New York State; all people, regardless of their right to be in this country, use services such as roads and policing. If the full population were not represented, the cost portion shared by Washington could fall on state and local taxpayers. The census provides data for more than $800 billion in annual federal funding to states and localities for health care, schools, public housing, and transportation. Also dependent on the count is how many congressional seats and electoral votes each state receives, and how states might redraw local and federal voting districts.

Vote suppression and voting roll purges have been a hallmark of the Trump era. The census fight needs to be understood in that context.  

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