I realize that many times before you’ve been told, “If this weren’t the Trump administration where there’s a new scandal every day, this would be a major scandal.” You sighed and said, “I’m sure that’s true,” then moved on. But let me explain why the administration’s treatment of the U.S. census should, in fact, be a major scandal, particularly given some blockbuster news we just got. This scandal has a malign conspiracy, public lies, possible perjury, and an unrelenting assault not just on a core American institution enshrined in the Constitution but on democracy itself. As you may have heard, the Trump administration has decided to add a question to the 2020 Census asking whether those answering are U.S. citizens. It’s already widely known that it’s hard enough already to get people, particularly in immigrant communities, to answer the questions, because there’s not only concern about privacy but also fear that the census will be used to target people for harassment or even deportation.
A citizenship question — which hasn’t been part of the decennial census for 70 years — is all but guaranteed to make people even more reluctant to answer the questions. That’s particularly true in the environment of fear that President Trump has created for all immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and indeed for all racial, religious and ethnic minorities.
That is, of course, the whole point. When communities with lots of immigrants and minorities are undercounted, that means fewer federal dollars will flow to them and they will be underrepresented in the redistricting that occurs after the census. The addition of the citizenship question is one more part of a broader Republican vote suppression effort that includes aggressive gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter purges and restriction of early voting.