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Trump Twists the Census

Terry H. Schwadron

July 24, 2020

For a Law & Order guy who is a self-declared stable genius who aces cognitive tests, Donald Trump seems to get confused pretty easily about what law enforcement means.

So, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that he could not include a Census question about immigration status, Donald Trump went ahead and issued an executive order this week that blocks undocumented immigrants from being counted in the Census for the purpose of allocating congressional representation.

Just how he plans to identify immigration status for individuals is unclear. The only hint from the White House was that the government would rely on drivers’ licenses.

That means that they will look for Rodriguez or Gonzalez or another Latino-sounding name and seek to exclude that person — whether the person is a citizen or not.

As someone who has worked with information databases, let me assure you, these is the least scientific or accurate measure to use. Instead, we have another case of catching presidential racial bias in action.

Trump tried to do this earlier with a task force to strike non-citizens from state voting rolls and failed miserably — over the process and a general resistance by the states.

There is no question that there will be legal challenges, and were I to be a judge, not only would I find against Trump, but I would find him in contempt of court, and assign a penalty for failure to read and follow the law.

The whole point of the Census is to determine where people live so that federal dollars can be assigned for services on a per capita basis, and therefore to use the results to guide the drawing of more or less equally sized congressional districts. It also happens to serve a variety of other statistical social science measures.

It’s not supposed to be a partisan political toy.

Blatant Bias

As a reminder, the Trump administration had tried to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but the Supreme Court said the administration’s reasoning was “contrived” and a not-well-veiled attempt to use the Census to extend its anti-immigration policies. Instead the administration had a mini-scandal involving lying to Congress about all of this by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

If possible, this executive order is yet more blatant. It simply seeks to treat a swath of 11 million people as if they don’t exist, never need public schools or firefighters or police or emergency health personnel.

Within minutes of the announcement, it was drawing the legal ire of lawmakers and advocacy groups already worried about underrepresentation in a time of pandemic-burdened information collection. Results of the Census affect apportionment in Congress and resources for at least another 10 years.

Lawmakers and advocacy groups who, amid the coronavirus pandemic, were already concerned about minority groups being undercounted in the census and consequently affecting the apportionment of representation and resources for years to come.

During debate on the citizenship question, Trump administration officials vehemently denied accusations that it was intended to discourage participation by foreign nationals, despite accusations to that effect from its opponents.

In practical terms, California likely would see the biggest impact, but so would Texas and Georgia, all states that house more than a million undocumented individuals.

As Mark Joseph Stern argues in Slate, “Donald Trump’s new memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the next round of congressional apportionment is morally repulsive, illegal, and impossible. It is repulsive because it borrows the logic of the notorious Three-Fifths Clause to declare that undocumented immigrants are not full “persons” under the Constitution. It is illegal because it seeks to exclude these immigrants from a state’s population when counting how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives, which violates the Constitution. And it is impossible because there is no way that the government can count undocumented immigrants with any accuracy by the December deadline.”

Political Games

So, we’re seeing the outlines of the rest of the time between now and November. Unleashing unmarked federal agents to grab protestors off the street in Portland and other cities, particularly if they have Democratic mayors, in an attempt to show Trump as tough. The return of Trump briefings on coronavirus, barely veiled to ensure that he has daily national television time, since the cable networks can’t resist it. More and more outlandish claims, and the promise of political fisticuffs at every turn.

Expect more attacks on China, renewed attempts to eliminate the DACA protections (Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals), more attempts to bury bad news of a pandemic and its hospitalizations and deaths, more loving outreach to Vladimir Putin and Russians, and endless made-up reasons for fear in the suburbs at the hands of a “radical Left” Joe Biden (if only!) and any Democratic majority in Congress.

If we see it all as political games, none of the substance means anything — Trump will have as much difficulty getting states to agree on redrawing congressional district lines according to his order as he has had on mask-wearing. Still, he is undertaking these absurd positions in the name of you and me — and American values.

There is no fairness in this White House, only promotional machinery.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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