Calling BS: Reinstating the citizenship question in the decennial Census

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ announcement on Monday that the decennial Census will reinstate the inquiry about citizenship raises the obvious question: Why are we doing this? For context, this is the administration of a president who launched his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and people “bringing drugs” and “crime,” while vowing to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Could there be a political motive? Hmmm.

Ross said in a public memo that the Justice Department requested the change “to provide census block level citizenship voting age population data,” adding, “DOJ and the courts use CVAP data for determining violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and having these data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the Act. Section 2 protects minority population voting rights.”

Given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions shares his boss’ view on immigration enforcement, and considering his abysmal record on voting rights, I’m more prepared to believe that Martians are secretly running the US government than that the Trump Justice Department has experienced a sudden conversion on the urgency of protecting minority voting rights.

While Sessions cheered the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, most of what we know about the attorney general’s views on protecting minority voting rights comes from his 1986 confirmation hearing, when the US Senate turned him down for a federal judgeship.

Writing in The Nation last year, Ari Berman encapsulates what was known about the future attorney general: “Gerry Hebert, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, testified that Sessions had called the NAACP and ACLU ‘communist-inspired’ and ‘un-American’ organizations that were ‘trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.’ Thomas Figures, who worked under Sessions as the first black prosecutor in Alabama, said that Sessions called him ‘boy’ and told him ‘to be careful what I said to white folks.’ Sessions called the Voting Rights Act ‘an intrusive piece of legislation.’”

It seems much more likely that the reason for reinstating the citizenship question is to discourage non-citizens from participating in the 2020 decennial Census and thus to depress the population count in high-immigration areas so that the GOP can maintain an advantage in the allocation of Congressional seats.

The eight states with the highest numeric growth from 2016 to 2017, as reported by the Census last December, should provide some clue as to why the Trump administration would have an interest in artificially depressing the count of non-citizens. Texas (1), Florida (2), California (3) Washington (4), North Carolina (5), Georgia (6), Arizona (7) and Colorado (8) all have either large pre-existing immigrant populations, fast-growing immigrant populations or both.

With a president who believes, based on no evidence whatsoever, that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because of millions of undocumented people voting, it’s more than plausible that the Justice Department would use census block level data on non-citizen population to pursue trumped-up allegations of voter fraud. At least, that’s more believable than the notion of Trump and Sessions attempting to protect minority voting rights.

If it looks like a duck….

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