OP-ED: Trump is politicizing the census

Gissela Moya
Tribune News Service
This April 5, 2020, photo shows a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. The U.S. Census Bureau needs more time to wrap up the once-a-decade count because of the coronavirus, opening the possibility of delays in drawing new legislative districts that could help determine what political party is in power, what laws pass or fail and whether communities of color get a voice in their states. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

An accurate U.S. Census count is fundamental to our democracy, but the Trump administration is once again standing in the way.

It recently announced plans to move the deadline for census workers to conduct in-person interviews up by a full month, from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. That would make it even harder for census workers to complete this task on time and increase the risk of an undercount, especially among non-English speakers, immigrants and racial minorities.

About a third of U.S households have yet to fill out their questionnaire, a task made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. The accelerated pace will make it harder for census takers to meet their goals.

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“It’s going to be impossible to complete the count in time,” one Census Bureau employee told NPR. “I’m very fearful we’re going to have a massive undercount.”

Census data are used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives among the states, according to their population. The process determines how many representatives each state will have for the next 10 years. Census figures are also used to allocate federal funds.

The Constitution requires a count of everyone residing in the country, regardless of legal status. “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers,” declares the second section of the 14th Amendment.

On July 21, Trump issued a memo stating, “It is the policy of the United States to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.”

This unconstitutional claim will undermine the hard work of organizations and activists to build trust among undocumented immigrants, to ensure that they fill out their census questionnaires. The Pew Research Center has calculated that removing undocumented immigrants would lead to California, Florida and Texas each losing one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, with Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio each keeping seats they would have otherwise lost.

Not only will this deprive representation from areas with large immigrant populations, it is a slap in the face to undocumented essential workers who put their safety at risk to keep the country going. The Migration Policy Institute reports that 6 million immigrants work on the front lines of coronavirus response. The Trump administration seeks to erase them.

There may be hope. Many groups have filed lawsuits challenging Trump’s memo as unconstitutional. The administration lost before the Supreme Court in its fight to wrongfully include a citizenship question on the 2020 census form and it can lose again.

America needs a fair, accurate count of the people who live here, including the undocumented. The census must be nonpolitical.

— Gissela Moya is the Manny Garcia Technology Equity Fellow at The Greenlining Institute. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.