After the administration’s attempt to count citizens was blocked by the Supreme Court, is this workaround valid?
The Census, which helps determine each state’s congressional representation and allocation of federal funding, is tasked by the Constitution with providing a count of the “whole number of… persons,” regardless of whether or not they’re citizens. The Census Bureau’s own estimates projected that requiring a citizenship question would depress non-citizens’ response rate by about 8 percent. States and districts with higher percentages of noncitizens would be harmed by this undercount, particularly many cities.
In the June 2019 case Department of Commerce v. New York, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump Administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the Census. The ruling was 5–4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the Court’s four progressives. The court did not rule on the validity of adding the question itself, so much as the manner in which the administration went about it.
Thus, two weeks later, the Trump Administration issued an executive order requiring any federal agencies to share their existing data and administrative records on citizenship with the Commerce Department, which runs the Census. The department estimates that would allow it to determine citizenship status for about 90 percent of the U.S. population.
What the legislation does
Congressional legislation would overturn the administration’s executive order.
The Senate version was introduced on July 23, 2019, or 12 days after Trump’s executive order, as bill number S. 2233, by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). The House version was introduced 11 months later on June 22 as bill number H.R. 7291, by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV4).
It does not appear that the legislation has an official title. It’s also unclear why the House version was so delayed, coming almost a year after the executive order was issued.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that all people should be counted in the Census according to the Constitution, and that after the president’s attempt was already ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, he’s now attempting to essentially accomplish the same end result.
“A representative democracy depends on an accurate count of its people, and any attempt to undermine such an important aspect of our democracy is wrong,” Rep. Horsford said in a press release. “The executive order directing federal agencies to compile citizenship data through administrative records and merge it with decennial census data is a blatant effort to collect this information for political and discriminatory purposes.”
“The results of the Census will determine congressional representation, federal funding, and essential programs our communities depend on,” Rep. Horsford continued. “The sharing of this information could cause an inaccurate allocation of more than $800 billion of taxpayer funds for critical programs like Medicaid, SNAP, infrastructure projects and education grants.”
“It is sad to see the lengths this administration will go to politicize citizenship data and distort our democracy,” Sen. Schatz said in a separate press release. “Three courts have ruled against their efforts, and yet they won’t stop. So we’re not going to stop either.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the status quo immigration system has many flaws, but that the only way to effectively make appropriate changes for the realities of the 21st century is based on accurate numbers.
“Today, an accurate understanding of the number of citizens and the number of aliens in the country is central to any effort to reevaluate immigration policy,” President Trump wrote in his executive order.
“The United States has not fundamentally restructured its immigration system since 1965. I have explained many times that our outdated immigration laws no longer meet contemporary needs,” Trump continued. “My administration is committed to modernizing immigration laws and policies, but the effort to undertake any fundamental reevaluation of immigration policy is hampered when we do not have the most complete data about the number of citizens and non-citizens in the country.”
“If we are to undertake a genuine overhaul of our immigration laws and evaluate policies for encouraging the assimilation of immigrants, one of the basic informational building blocks we should know is how many non-citizens there are in the country.
Odds of passage
The House version has attracted 25 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The Senate version has attracted 28 cosponsors: 27 Democrats and one independent. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled chamber.