There appears to be some political chicanery afoot with the upcoming 2020 census. On the surface, it might not seem to be unusual for the census questionnaire to ask respondents if family members in their household are citizens. However, the census form has not had a citizenship question since 1950.
The Census Scientific Advisory Committee, an official government entity, has recommended against including the question. The committee declared, “We hold the strong opinion that including citizenship in the 2020 census would be a serious mistake which would result in a substantial lowering of the response rate.” The concern is that immigrants, documented and otherwise, might not answer the question for fear of being targeted by the authorities.
Such fears might not be irrational because information from the 1940 census was used to round up Japanese-Americans and send them to concentration camps, like the Minidoka camp in Jerome County. The census information was supposedly confidential but it was nevertheless used to locate and incarcerate these innocent people, over 60% of whom were U.S. citizens. It was a clear violation of their rights.
The census was never intended to count just “citizens” of our country. The U.S. Constitution requires a count every 10 years of “Persons” in the country in order to determine apportionment of “Representatives and direct Taxes.” Slaves, who were not considered to be citizens, were to be counted as “other Persons,” with a three-fifths value. That chapter of our history was shameful.
Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, testified to Congress last year that he decided to put the citizenship question on the next census form at the request of the Justice Department. However, recently discovered evidence shows that to be a naughty fib. In truth, Ross requested the Justice folks to request the question. It appears he was asked to include the question by political operatives who wanted to depress immigrant participation in the census. States with large immigrant populations, like California, might lose some of their representatives in the U.S. Congress as a result of a substantial undercount.
How might this affect Idaho? Well, Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the Union. It has a fair number of immigrants, documented and otherwise, and could suffer from an undercount of residents in at least two ways.
First, many federal programs allocate funding to the states based on their census count. The funds are divvied up based on the number of “persons,” not citizens. An undercount would short-change Idaho in many federally-funded programs.
Second, apportionment of the 435 seats in Congress is allocated among the states based on the census of “persons.” Although it is unlikely Idaho would be entitled to an additional seat in Congress based on the 2020 census count, it is not out of the question to think we might grow enough to qualify based on the 2030 count.
There is no good reason to politicize the census by deliberately trying to cause an undercount of any state for any reason. That is why the professionals in the Census Bureau oppose the citizenship question. No valid reason has been shown to support it. Fast-growing Idaho could suffer collateral damage from this political skullduggery.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.