Census citizenship question would cost this community representation, dollars
May 4, 2018

The candidacy of Democrat Barack Obama for the presidency in 2008 mobilized many young and first-time voters around the country who helped put him in the White House.

We generally don’t teach civics in this country anymore, so many of those younger voters thought their job was done, and their turnout fell in the 2010 midterms. Couple that with the Fox- and Rush Limbaugh-led media convincing their followers that the sky was falling because an African-American was in charge of the country, and conservative and Republican turnout was huge that year, while progressive and Democratic turnout fell.

The result? Republican state legislatures were elected around the country, and they promptly went about gerrymandering districts so more Republicans would be elected and Democrats would have a harder time winning office. In the very next congressional election in 2012, Democrats nationally won over a million votes more than Republicans, yet still lost the House of Representatives. In 2016, Republicans won 49.9% of the votes for the House, yet ended up with 55% of the seats.

Thanks to the right-wing, anti-environment, anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration, progressives, Democrats, young people, and women are paying attention to politics more than ever. Special elections across the country this year have reaped the Democrats more wins than their counterparts, and many political pundits are predicting a “blue wave” this November with the possibility that Congress could turn from red to blue. In addition, a significant number of Republican incumbents are seeing the writing on the wall and are “retiring” from their posts. Since progressive turnout will not be depressed in 2018, what new shenanigans can Republicans and conservatives come up with to keep the minority in power over the majority?

The answer: game the census. The Trump administration has come up with a brilliant idea to put a question about citizenship on the census forms.  This smacks of something “the architect of anarchy” Steve Bannon, who was ousted from the White House, but remains a Trump confident, conjured up in his diabolical mind.

If one doesn’t give the issue a lot of analysis, that question seems harmless. It is anything but.

Elected representation is not based on citizenship, according to the U.S. Constitution. It is based on number of persons—and they do not have to be citizens.

There are increased numbers and visibility of the rounding up and deportation of undocumented persons from other countries in the United States, and the emboldening of those who discriminate against or hate foreigners, all courtesy of the abhorrent policies and attitudes of the Trump administration. Sadly, there have been countless heartbreaking stories of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials breaking up families. If there is a citizenship question, not only foreign-born non-citizens are going to skip filling out the census—and they have a right to fill it out—but legal foreign-born residents and citizens are going to be reluctant to fill it out, too. Why give a government that hates you more information about yourself?

This of course will impact states with high numbers of urban and foreign-born residents—and of course, most of these are Democratic states—and just like gerrymandering will provide disproportionate representation to Republican states. If Republicans can’t steal votes one way, they’ll just do it another way.

This will not only impact representation, but federal programs such as Medicaid, Head Start, and the National School Lunch Program. With an inaccurate count, fewer dollars will go to areas like Chicago and Illinois that have more foreign-born people too scared to fill out the census, and more dollars will go to Trump-friendly areas of the country.

University of Illinois at Chicago political science Professor Dick Simpson said that an undercount would particularly impact neighborhoods needing the most services, where poor people and immigrants live. Some of those neighborhoods are in our very own community.

Eighteen attorneys general including Lisa Madigan of Illinois have sued the federal government to keep the citizenship question off the census, and the City of Chicago is one of the plaintiffs in the suit as well. Our City officials make their share of mistakes, but they’re on the right side on this one. They know that if the Trump administration has its way, Chicago and Illinois are going to lose representation and funding for federal programs.

Rahm Emanuel has been going it alone to fight U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his threat to withdraw federal dollars due to the mayor’s stand on Chicago being a sanctuary city. This census ploy, if enacted, will siphon more dollars from Chicago.

The citizenship question was last on the census in 1950. Judging by Trump administration policies on race relations, the underserved, the environment—actually, just about everything—that’s about the year to which they would like to drag America back.  “Make America Great Again” means different things to different people, and for many, it’s a pathway to only more racial and socioeconomic divide.

It’s up to Democratic and, by some miracle, enlightened Republican officials to stop the Trump wayback machine (even Republican-leaning states like North Carolina and Georgia, which have large numbers of immigrants, stand to be underrepresented and lose federal dollars if the citizenship question is on the ballot), and it’s up to Democratic and progressive voters to show up in even larger than projected numbers this fall to elect as many Democratic candidates as possible to stop such shenanigans in state legislatures and Congress.