29 March 2018

Begging the (census) question.

The Trump administration wants to revive the practice of asking participants in the U.S. Census whether they're citizens of the country. Democrats are predictably alarmed, seeing the proposal as a nativist Republican plot to entrap undocumented immigrants and reduce the congressional representation of states presumed "blue," yet also certainly including ruby-"red" Texas, with large immigrant populations. At first glance, it may look like Democrats are once again picking the wrong fight. Shouldn't the Census count only citizens?  Not necessarily, according to the Constitution. To determine the apportionment of Representatives in Congress, the founding charter originally required the Census to count "free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years," while slaves (i.e. "all other Persons") would count as only three-fifths of free persons and "Indians not taxed" weren't counted at all. The Fourteenth Amendment abrogated the three-fifths clause and provides that a state's congressional delegation can be reduced if the state denies the vote to male citizens 21 and older for reasons other than rebellion or "other crime." In the relevant clause of the original text the word "citizen" is not used. The word appears in the Fourteenth Amendment only in the context of voting rights. A state can have its representation reduced by denying voting rights to people the Constitution declares eligible, but the basis of representation is "the whole number of persons," not the number of citizens. Asking whether people are citizens thus appears irrelevant to the apportionment of congressional seats. What Democrats, mainly, seem to fear is that their states will lose seats because immigrants will evade the Census rather than identify themselves as non-citizens, even though the proposed yes-or-no citizenship question would not distinguish between illegal immigrants and those on the legal path to naturalization. In other words, irrational fear may cost Democrats congressional seats, while states with large immigrant populations may lose out on government funds allocated according to population. Yet it's the Democrats who are stoking the irrational fear for short-term gain, portraying the proposal as another Republican assault on democracy itself in order to scare more people into voting Democratic this year. If they want to win elections over the next decade, however, cooler heads ought to prevail.

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