For the first time in over fifty years, the US Census is planning to ask respondents about their citizenship status. The move comes after the Department of Justice under the Trump administration requested the addition of the citizenship status citing concerns in enforcing the 1965 Voting Rights Act and preventing illegal voting.
The implication here is obvious: the Trump administration has spent the better part of the last two years touting the absurd myth that millions of undocumented immigrants are committing voter fraud and casting illegal ballots in favour of Democratic candidates. Trump favors this fictional narrative over the truth, because it reinforces his flawed belief that the country is more in support of him and his party than it actually is. Now, despite the fact that even Trump’s own commission has found no evidence of such a phenomenon of illegal voting, the Trump administration is directing the US Census to help support Trump’s dangerous, fear-mongering, anti-immigrant theory.
The consequences of this directive are alarming. The US Census — which is constitutionally-mandated to count all US residents regardless of citizenship status — will be forced to wade into the midst of the nativist hysteria that has gripped the country, and in so doing add a question that is sure to depress Census responses from communities boasting large foreign-born populations, such as Asian Americans.
Nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born, including sizeable proportions of both documented and undocumented immigrants. Given the precariousness of immigration status — particularly under the Trump administration, which has detained record numbers of documented and undocumented immigrants in preparation for removal proceedings — it should come as no surprise that immigrants will be wary of any process that would ask them to disclose their citizenship and documentation status to the federal government. Under an administration that seems determined to drive immigrants out of the country, a Census that seeks to record and document the status of all US immigrants alongside their names and addresses can only appear to have nefarious motives. And, whether the information is ultimately used benignly or not, the presence of the citizenship question is almost certain to depress responses from Asian Americans and other predominantly-immigrant populations — many of whom fear reprisals from one of the most breathtakingly xenophobic administrations in recent memory. This fear will not be limited to undocumented immigrants; documented immigrants will also be reluctant to participate in a process that will facilitate their persecution by an administration already hostile to their very existence.
We cannot abide this proposed citizenship question, which seems designed more to harangue immigrants than to generate necessary demographic data. Any measure that would lead to undercounting of Asian Americans or other communities is highly problematic. US Census data are used to administer several social services programs, and they also form the basis for the drawing of congressional district boundaries. Census miscounting or undercounting of Asian Americans will result in reduced distribution of federal and state-level resources to Asian American communities. It will also significantly impact the size of congressional districts that encompass predominantly Asian American residents, which ultimately weakens our voice in government.
Supporters of the citizenship question argue that the US Census has asked about immigration status in earlier iterations of the Census. That is true, but the citizenship question was last distributed in the full Census in 1950, before the country was home to the sizable non-white immigrant communities that characterize modern America. Moreover, the data that the citizenship question seeks to obtain are already readily available as an estimate obtained from the American Community Survey, which administers a more detailed battery of questions to a sampling of Americans; USCIS also keeps a detailed record of documented immigrants and our residency patterns. The citizenship question does not add value to US Census data; it is only an effort to forcibly legitimize Donald Trump’s wildly racist conspiracy theories about undocumented immigrants.
Asian Americans are already largely overlooked in American politics, and many agencies already ignore the need to accurately count and study Asian Americans. Efforts that would depress our communities’ response rate on the US Census would only further render us invisible and drive us deeper into the margins; and experts almost widely agree that this question will discourage immigrants from responding to their US Census form.
Already, twelve states have indicated they will sue the Trump administration to protect their immigrant residents and prevent this citizenship question from appearing on the 2020 Census, leading to undercounting and eventual disenfranchisement of these non-citizen populations — most of which are part of communities of colour. Several Asian American elected officials and non-profit groups have also mobilized in the last few days to oppose this proposed citizenship question. Senator Mazie Hirono joined Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker to introduce the Every Person Counts Act, which would make the proposed citizenship question illegal. From the press release:
“The administration’s proposal to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census is just its latest effort to cater to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant base and foment fear,” said Sen. Hirono. “Census data is utilized to make critical decisions for the entire federal government and adding this question would have a devastating impact on minority participation and future funding for programs that impact the most needy communities. I call on my colleagues to join us in keeping the Census nonpartisan by banning this blatantly political proposal.”
Asian Americans must join the fight to stop this latest effort by the Trump administration to target and scapegoat immigrants as imaginary threats against American safety and security. Immigrants — like all residents of America — deserve to be represented accurately by an agency that should be non-partisan and exclusively data-driven. The Trump administration must not be allowed to weaponize the US Census to advance their own xenophobic — and racist — agenda.