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The Trump White House is on the defensive following Tuesday’s announcement by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that there will be a question about citizenship status in the 2020 U.S. Census.
The administration claims that including the citizenship question is necessary for the U.S. Department of Justice to protect the rights of voters.
But Democrats, civil rights groups and others are calling the census change what it is: a threat to immigrants with major implications for political involvement, participation, research, policy making, government funding and the collection of accurate data.
Attorneys general in a number of states immediately — and rightly — challenged the proposal, warning that the change would have far-reaching effects on immigrants and the political landscape.
“What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate Census count,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ProPublica.
“The census, written about and hallowed in the Constitution, is being distorted by this administration for political purposes,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, told The Hill.
Hawaii is not yet among the states involved in the legal challenge, but it should be. Like California, it is among the most diverse states in the nation.
(One imagines that if Doug Chin were still Hawaii’s AG, we would have been at the forefront of any legal challenge.)
In fact, the citizenship question has not been included in the census since 1950. The United States was a far whiter and far less ethnically diverse country 68 years ago than it is now.
It is no coincidence that the census question may have come in part at the behest of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a longtime supporter of stricter voter identification laws. Kobach was President Trump’s choice to help lead a presidential commission on “election integrity” that sought to prove millions of fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 presidential elections.
There was no fraud, however, affirming that Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. The president quietly dissolved the commission two months ago.
When it comes to respecting multiculturalism — and all Americans, not just the white male Republicans that dominate his political base — the Trump administration wants to return to the 1950s.
In the past week alone, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said diversity is not important, a ban on transgender military personal was implemented and the president unsuccessfully sought funding for a border wall by taking defense budget monies.
When it comes to the census, the White House can’t even get basic facts straight.
“This is a question that’s been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.
Obama, of course, was president in 2010. Thanks to Trump, many think the Hawaii-born 44th president is a Muslim born in Kenya. No wonder white supremacists and neo-Nazis feel emboldened under the 45th president.
As The New York Times editorialized Tuesday, the census is much more than just a head count.
“It is a snapshot of America that determines how congressional seats are apportioned, how state and federal dollars are distributed, where businesses choose to ship products and where they build new stores. To do all that properly, the count needs to be accurate.”
One way to help ensure that the census remains fair and accurate is to support the 2020 Census Improving Data and Enhanced Accuracy Act.
Among other things, the IDEA Act calls for prohibiting “last-minute changes or additions to the census without proper research, studying, and testing,” according to the office of Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz.
“We need to make sure the 2020 census is on the level,” Schatz, who co-introduced the legislation, said in a statement Tuesday. “There is too much at stake for Congress to avoid its oversight responsibilities. With this bill, we can protect the 2020 census, and in doing so protect our Constitution.”
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.