The United States Constitution instructs that a census of all persons in the United States be conducted every 10 years. The first census was 1790, the latest in 2010. We conduct a census every 10 years to ensure that every member of the House of Representatives represents the same number of people. Every 10 years states take this information and draw congressional districts.
But the census has become much more. The Census Bureau has also asked questions about age, place of birth, marital status, education, etc. And we update these questions with each census. Historically this gives us a “snapshot” of our nation. For those of us who choose to climb our family tree, this information gives us an incredibly amount of information.
The Census Bureau comes under the Department of Commerce and two years ago President Trump nominated Wilber Ross. Not long after Mr. Ross assumed his office he began to advocate that the 2020 census ask each person in America about their citizenship status.
At face value that sounds benign but it’s not. From the first day of his campaign President Trump has proclaimed that they (noncitizens) are out to destroy our (citizens) way of life. It is their hope that families with undocumented residents will lie and exclude those household members from the census. Those uncounted people will not factor into the congressional district. Or perhaps they will answer truthfully and undocumented residents will in danger of being discovered and deported.
Those who favor this question respond by saying (rightly) that individual census information doesn’t become public information until 73 years after the census. Anyone can access information on the census from 1790 to 1940; in 2023 the 1950 census will be released.
Except. Except that in the 1940s, during World War II, the United States decided to inter Japanese Americans. They used several tools to determine who were Japanese, and one of them was data from the 1940 census. They broke the law. Don’t believe me? OK, at least read this article.
So in 2020 people with family members who are undocumented have to face a terrible dilemma: should they lie and give up some representation or should they tell the truth and fear a knock at midnight?
And, by the way, if you think the census should only count people with legal status, you need to amend the Constitution. The census counts all persons, not just persons the President likes.