2020 Census to target certain groups but affect us all

Getty Images

The Trump administration’s announcement that it would add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census is both misguided and highly prejudicial.

It falls in line with many anti-immigrant policies and attitudes we have seen from this administration, but it is much more egregious and insidious in its outcome of debilitating our democracy and stealing representation from the many communities who reside in the United States.  

{mosads}The Decennial Census was designed to meet the constitutional mandate contained in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution which states:


“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective Numbers. The actual 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.” 

The entity responsible for carrying out this count is the Bureau of the Census, an agency within the Department of Commerce. The first census took place under Thomas Jefferson when he was secretary of State in 1790, after the American Revolution. Since then, 22 federal censuses have been taken.  

As someone who was a political appointee for three Commerce secretaries during the Clinton administration, I understand the commitment, hard work and dedication of Census Bureau employees who recognize the obligation and the weight of conducting a census that accurately counts the country’s population.  

Tuesday’s announcement not only undercuts our democracy but denigrates the decades of preparation and focus of bureau employees who have sought a myriad of ways to better count and represent those who call this country home, regardless of legal status or political affiliation.  

The Decennial Census is the country’s biggest peacetime mobilization designed by our founders — not to count how many citizens are in the country but how many persons reside within our borders, regardless of legal status, race, ethnicity, economic background or living conditions.

To govern effectively, our elected leaders must know how many people live in the country, in the states and in every district, if they are to successfully plan for emergency situations, natural disasters, evacuations, as well as for the building of adequate roads, bridges, sewers and sidewalks that get used regardless of citizenship status.

Contrary to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ assertion, the question of citizenship status has not been in the Decennial Census, since it was taken out in 1950 — not in 2010, as she erroneously declared. There are other census products used to ascertain citizenship, such as the American Community Survey which is given out to a percentage of the population and includes a question on citizenship. 

And there are plenty of other government agencies capable of giving an accurate count of citizens currently in the country — the Social Security Administration, for one.  

The Decennial Census was never designed to count citizens. It was designed to count persons. Adding a question about citizenship to the process, one that already suffers from lower-than-ideal levels of participation, will further inhibit that participation rate by stirring up existing fears of government intrusion and, in this case, of the information being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for deportation proceedings.  

The announcement is so incredibly myopic and dangerous that it already has drawn derision from several census experts and a former attorney general, and it has sparked the first state lawsuit to stop the question from being asked.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, an expert who worked on census oversight, called the move a mistake and worried that public confidence in the process would decline significantly:

“Between evidence that the administration is manipulating the census for political gain and fear that the administration will use the census to harm immigrants, confidence in the integrity of the count could plummet. And the census is only as good as the public’s willingness to participate,” Lowenthal said.

Former Obama administration attorney general Eric Holder, currently the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, blasted the administration’s decision while vowing to take it to court. He makes the case that it is an irresponsible decision, an attack on our representative democracy, and will lead to devastating decades-long impacts on communities across the country.  

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra calls the decision “reckless” and is suing the Trump administration on behalf of his state, which will suffer debilitating losses in federal funding, will lose congressional representation and will be set back decades in infrastructure improvements and economic potential. 

The consequences of a huge undercount in the Decennial Census will not only be suffered by California but by every state in the union and every community. 

While I believe this decision is based on a blatant attempt to weaponize the power of the federal government against communities the administration has consistently disrespected and insulted, the result will be detrimental to all Americans and the communities in which they live.

They will be robbed of resources, programs and projects needed to sustain and promote economic prosperity — schools, hospitals, highways, roads, electric grids, safety and security measures, all depend on having an accurate count of the people they are designed to sustain and serve.

The administration would be wise to reconsider such an ill-advised, politically motivated move that strips our democracy of its fundamental tools to determine accurate and fair representation in Congress and allocation of resources.

Anything short of backing away from this reckless move proves just how unfit for office Donald Trump is, and just how unprepared and disinterested his administration is in fulfilling its obligation to govern on behalf of all people who call the United States home.  

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.

Tags Census Demography Donald Trump Donald Trump Eric Holder Politics Presidency of Donald Trump United States United States Census United States Census Bureau Xavier Becerra

More Finance News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video