The outrage from California’s political leadership was intense and immediate Tuesday to the Trump administration’s last-minute addition of a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census.
And for very good reason – this latest assault on immigrants would almost certainly lead to an undercount of California’s population. That would cost billions of dollars in federal funding and could cost the state a seat in the U.S. House for a decade.
Even Californians who aren’t sympathetic to undocumented immigrants should care about a fair share of federal money and fair representation. The once-a-decade census is used to determine how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House, and thus the number of votes in the Electoral College that determines the president. The count is also used to distribute billions in federal money to communities.
Everyone – Republicans as well as Democrats – should want a fair and accurate count. Instead, having census-takers ask about citizenship status will discourage participation by citizens and non-citizens alike in immigrant communities where fear is already rampant due to federal raids and the lawsuit against California’s sanctuary laws.
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In California, many families are a mix of undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens and legal residents. An estimated 4.7 million people – 12 percent of the total population – live with an unauthorized family member, according to a study last year.
Advocacy groups are justified in their suspicions of this move given President Trump’s war on immigrants. This seems a thinly-veiled attempt to depress the voting power of Latinos, Asian Americans and other fast-growing ethnic groups. It is breathtakingly cynical for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross – who announced late Monday he granted the request from the Justice Department for the question – to use the pretense of the Voting Rights Act since that law was passed in 1965 to protect minority voters.
Democrats in Congress, who fear this is another tool for Trump to take power and resources away from blue states, have already introduced bills to block the Census Bureau from asking the citizenship question. But without enough Republican support, those measures will go nowhere. So as with so many other issues in this presidency, it will likely be decided in court.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he will sue the Trump administration. He should take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if need be. There is too much at stake for California not to do everything possible.