Census ‘Citizenship’ Question Sets Off New California vs. Trump Immigration Argument

Are you a U.S. citizen?

It’s a simple question, but Southern California public officials say it could complicate political life in this immigrant-rich region if the Trump administration succeeds in making a question like it part of the 2020 national census.

So they’re fighting back with hot rhetoric and threats of legal action, making the census the latest battleground in the war between California Democrats and Washington, D.C., Republicans over immigration issues.

Which side prevails could have political impact beyond the debate about immigration policy, perhaps shifting the balance of power between the two major parties for decades to come, and determining how many seats California gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Every aspect of immigration is going to be contentious, even the simple task of collecting basic data,” Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said of the political playing field these days.

This aspect of the immigration conflict became contentious in December as soon as it was reported, by the investigative news organization ProPublica, that the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to U.S. Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin arguing that a question regarding citizenship should be included in the next version of the once-a-decade national head count.

In the letter, Arthur E. Gary, general counsel for the DOJ’s Justice Management Division, said complete data about where non-citizens are living is needed to help the department enforce Voting Rights Act prohibitions on discrimination through gerrymandering and other means.

But Democrats and advocates for immigrants protested, doubting the DOJ’s motives and saying the inclusion of the citizenship question could scare some immigrants away from participating in the census.

If that happened, they said, it could mean the census would produce incomplete data, leaving the immigrant population under-counted. In turn, they said, this would curtail one of census statistics’ main functions, which is to help determine how many congressional districts each state gets and determine the destinations of federal funds. The result could be that places with a lot of immigrants could wind up cheated of their fair share of congressional seats and hundreds of billions in federal dollars.

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