Proposal to add citizenship question to census takes aim at a central pillar of our democracy
© Getty Images

“Everybody counts. Everybody matters.” That’s more than my campaign slogan; it’s a promise to count everyone because being counted, being recognized, indicates our regard for the dignity inherent in each individual. President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE’s plan to to add a question about citizenship on the 2020 census is a rejection of the commitment we should have to each individual person.

Counting everyone is a central pillar of our democracy, and it’s dictated by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that the census must count “the whole number of persons in each state.” It is a guarantee that no matter who you are or where you live, you count just as much as your neighbor.

ADVERTISEMENT

Make no mistake: The addition of a citizenship question in the Census is intended to intimidate our immigrant friends and neighbors from participating, which will lead to an inaccurate count. That’s why six former U.S. Census Bureau directors, who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, wrote a letter to the Trump administration expressing their serious concern over the change.

Census officials have already discovered in their pretesting interviews that immigrants expressed fears about the census, saying "[t]he possibility that the Census could give my information to internal security and immigration could come and arrest me for not having documents terrifies me.” Given the anti-immigrant messages and policies coming out of the Trump White House and the increase in White Nationalist activity around the country, it is no surprise that our undocumented and minority neighbors would fear answering this citizenship question.

The consequences of an undercount in the next census will have a serious negative impact on every individual, citizen or not, in our country. Without an accurate count of everyone in this country, we cannot ensure the government fairly distributes funding to schools, or adequately funds plans for natural disasters or the outbreak of epidemics. Cities across the country will not be able to fund fire and police departments to ensure our homes and communities are safe. It would become close to impossible to enforce civil rights protections for fair housing or equal employment.

And, of course, the integrity of the census is necessary to make sure that people living in any state have an accurate and fair number of U.S. representatives who can advocate on their behalf in the halls of Congress. For example, an inaccurate census could cost California roughly $20 billion over ten years and up to two congressional seats.

An accurate census count helps ensure that everyone’s roads will be paved, schools will be repaired; it puts us on a path for everyone to have access to housing, jobs and the dreams America promises. By adding this citizenship question, the Trump White House has chosen to prioritize xenophobia over our American values of freedom and justice. They have chosen to erode the legitimacy and proper functioning of our democracy in order to continue stoking a politics of fear and division.

I hope you will join me in demanding that the Trump White House revoke their decision. Until they do, I will continue to fight in Congress alongside my colleagues, like Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyNew York Rep. Maloney endorses Gillibrand for president Pelosi says impeaching Trump 'just not worth it' Dems feel growing pressure on impeachment MORE (D-N.Y.), to revoke this question through legislation. I also applaud attorneys general from across the nation who are fighting this unconstitutional decision in court.

Americans of all stripes and backgrounds who believe in fairness must join together and oppose this decision. The future of our democracy depends on it.

Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th District.