EDITORIAL: Stop Trump attempt to misuse the census

York Dispatch

Pennsylvania voters would be well advised to enjoy their chance for relatively fair congressional elections this year — and, perhaps, in 2020 — under new, more representative electoral maps. Because after that, regardless of which party takes control of political map-making following the 2020 census, the Republican thumb goes back on the scale.

More:Supreme Court keeps revised Pa. congressional map in place

The Trump administration’s insistence on adding a question to the 2020 census asking whether respondents are U.S. citizens undercuts the main mission of the census: Gathering an accurate count of the number of people living in this country.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims the question is intended to protect voting rights. That assertion — like much else spouted from behind her podium — is laughable.

The real reasons for the question, which haven’t been deemed a census necessity since 1950, are the administration’s well-documented hostility to immigrants and a desire to boost GOP prospects at the polls come election time.

More:Trump rescinding DACA program protecting young immigrants

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have ratcheted up deportations aggressively since President Donald Trump took office — and not just among immigrants engaging in criminal activity, as under administrations past.

“(T)he U.S. government is arresting and deporting a number of individuals who have often lived in the country for decades, checked in regularly with immigration officials and posed no danger to their community,” reports CNN. “Many have family members who are American citizens, including school-aged children.”

In response to this governmental posture, municipalities across the nation, including York, have declared themselves sanctuary or welcoming cities for immigrants.

More:Mayor: York City welcomes immigrants

Still, the administration remains far from welcoming, so there are strong and understandable misgivings — even among legal immigrants and green card holders, who are here legally — about the government’s motives. There follow, logically, strong and understandable concerns that the question will discourage this population from taking part in the census, artificially deflating the count.

More:Decision to add citizenship question to census draws protest

Any guesses where these depressed census tallies would be most prevalent?

“Critics accused the administration of adding the question to reduce the population count in the predominantly Democratic areas where more immigrants reside, in advance of state and national redistricting in 2021,” writes the New York Times.

Anyone who thinks the Trump administration — with the willing compliance of Republican toadies in Congress — wouldn’t target “Democratic areas” need only review the recently passed tax-cut package, which kneecapped “blue states” like California and New York.

More:Who foots the bill for Trump’s $5.8 trillion tax cut?

Eliminating vast numbers of citizens from Democratic congressional districts is seemingly the latest GOP scheme to tilt the electoral tables and protect their majorities in Congress:

  • Stiff voter ID requirements, early voting cutbacks and other restrictions have mushroomed in Republican-controlled states since the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Many states have stripped voting rights from convicted felons even after they’ve served time. Penalties are severe. A Texas woman is currently facing five years in prison for unknowingly voting illegally while on parole. (That’s longer than G. Gordon Liddy served for his role in the Watergate break-in!)
  • Blatant partisan gerrymandering has allowed the Republican Party outsized representation in states like Pennsylvania, where the courts recently, albeit belatedly, struck down the visibly contorted congressional maps created following the 2010 census.

Now, having finally secured more representative political maps, Pennsylvania again sees its fair representation in Congress threatened. The state is home to an estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants — nearly one-fourth of its immigrant population. If a large number of those residents duck the census, a substantial undercount — and imbalanced underrepresentation — could be the result. Not to mention the outright loss of a congressional seat.

A citizenship question is not only unnecessary but unconstitutional — recall, the Constitution requires a tally of all residents living in the country, whether or not they are citizens. And its resultant undercounts would affect not just political districts but federal grants and subsidies in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

For all of these reasons, Pennsylvania has rightly decided to join a suit seeking to block the citizenship question. It is a necessary step.

The question is a craven political maneuver aimed at identifying deportation targets while diminishing the legitimate population in largely Democratic states and districts. It is unfair, unnecessary and unwelcome.

And like Pennsylvania’s equally indefensible partisan congressional districts, it should be dismissed.