Counting Citizens In The Census - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Opinion

Counting Citizens In The Census

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 4:47 pm

The Constitution directs Congress to conduct a census every 10 years to count the number of people living in the country. There weren’t very many when the Constitution was written, hence little need to distinguish then between citizens and just plain people so it was a distinction without much of a difference. As our country expanded and attracted more settlers to populate it and build its infrastructure, new states were added and Congress needed census data to determine, among other things, fair representation in the House of Representatives.

I worked as a field supervisor during the 2000 Census and am aware that there is sometimes an air of suspicion regarding censuses which in some countries had been used to tax or seize property and conscript men into military service so adding questions to the census forms is generally restricted to those necessary to gain needed information not otherwise readily available. But while the Constitution doesn’t specify what questions may be asked, neither does it say which ones may not be asked and questions regarding citizenship and even race and ethnicity have been included in the past. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can, in addition to counting people, collect statistics as “necessary and proper for the intelligent exercise of powers granted by the Constitution”.

There weren’t many government benefits and entitlements in those early days but today there are many, some available, at least for now, only to citizens. It is, therefore, not only sensible but “necessary and proper for the intelligent exercise of the powers granted by the Constitution” to know just how many are eligible to receive those benefits and what the potential cost might be.

Previous censuses have included questions on citizenship without causing much distress in either of the two major political parties. And, as recently as late last month, a Harvard University Center for American Political Studies/Harris Poll showed that two-thirds of all respondents, including even a majority of Democrats, think the census should be able to ask how many people living here are citizens. But Democrat leaders and open borders advocates contend that the citizenship question is intended to discriminate against Hispanics and is therefore racist, notwithstanding the fact that the question would be asked of everyone regardless of race or ethnicity.

The Department of Commerce this year proposed that the citizenship question be added, again, to the 2020 Census. Liberals promptly challenged, arguing that it could result in an undercount, since households containing an undocumented immigrant might be reluctant to respond at all. The Supreme Court took the matter up and Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, declared that the administration’s reason for including the question appeared contrived. Contrived or not, don’t Americans have a right, indeed a need, to know how many actual citizens are in the country and entitled to the benefits that, by law, only citizens are?

Democrat candidates for their party’s presidential nomination are proposing, among other freebies, free medical care to undocumented immigrants. Doesn’t it make sense to want to know how many people that would potentially cover and what the potential cost of this and other benefits, like free college tuition, that may be authorized, would be? Also, census data serve many purposes besides reapportioning representation in the House of Representatives including determining demographic trends, important in determining healthcare and other essential needs of, for example, different age groups. Don’t we want an accurate picture of what America looks like? But this issue is not about needs or common sense. It’s about politics. Democrat leaders, who once supported the need to have an accurate picture of who is in America, now object to the question. Are the reasons not obvious? First, it’s because undocumented immigrants are a rich source of potentially reliable votes. Secondly, it’s because the Trump Administration proposed it.

The Supreme Court left the door open to including the question in the 2020 census if the administration came up with a more compelling reason but time ran out and printing the census forms had to begin if the census was to be completed on time. However, the need remains for an accurate count of citizens and non-citizens living in America and President Trump will now seek to obtain such information by ordering federal agencies to provide pertinent information they may have in their files. Adding the citizenship question to the census would have been far easier, less intrusive and the information obtained less subject to controversial use since census data may not, by law, be shared with immigration authorities.

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