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Trumping the Census: The President vs The Supreme Court and the U.S. Census Bureau

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Just days ago, in their most recent round of sparring, the U.S. Census Bureau released  a public response to the President’s ongoing efforts to trump their 2020 census count. The beef started earlier this summer, when President Trump tried to force the bureau to place a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, and then the Supreme Court intervened to say that such a question on the 2020 decennial census was “substantively invalid.” Trump’s retort to the Supreme Court a few days later was, “I disagree with the Court’s ruling, because I believe that the Department’s decision was fully supported by the rationale presented on the record before the Supreme Court.” Shortly thereafter, he issued yet another trumped-up executive order. After striking out on including the question on the census itself, he ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the citizenship status of every U.S. resident, and where they live, without asking the question on the census. 

On March 20, 2010, President Barack Obama filled out his 2010 Census questionnaire in the Oval Office. According to a White House press release, the president provided information for himself, Mrs. Obama, his two daughters and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson. / Pete Souza, Wikimedia Commons

The Census Bureau has never before collected any kind of micro data like this. Trump is, in effect, asking it to determine the number of citizens concentrated on an area as small as a city block. The bureau is scrambling to develop a methodology and a rubric to collect the data that the president has requested, calling it the “Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) file.”  In a report released this month that addresses the executive order, the bureau clearly continued to struggle with the issue, stating, “no final decisions have been made regarding the methodology and format of the block- level CVAP data.”

In his Executive Order, Trump insists that, “to be clear, generating accurate data concerning the total number of citizens, non-citizens, and illegal aliens in the country has nothing to do with enforcing immigration laws against particular individuals.“ That statement did little to appease immigrant communities, advocacy groups like the ACLU, and researchers that do not believe that Trump’s intent is as benign as advertised. In fact, according to the NY Times, “The Census Bureau has acknowledged that inquiring about citizenship status could lower the response rate among immigrants and people of color. Census undercounts of minority groups have been a historic problem, attenuating their political influence and sparking distrust about the process, and critics say the citizenship question would make the problem worse… Courts have found that Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas might have each lost seats in the House as a result.”

U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves meets with Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and families at Mary’s Center in Washington, D.C., during the launch of “Children Count Too,” a public awareness campaign that reminded parents to include their young children on the 2010 Census form. / Children Count Too Awareness Campaign Launches, US Census Bureau, CC-BY-2.0

While there is widespread support for the census counting all people, as evidenced by approaches from organizations like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, there is also concern in the community that citizenship data could be used as a tool to track down undocumented people in order to make good on Trump’s political promises to curb immigration. Thankfully, the US Census Bureau is keenly aware of its mandate to protect personally identifiable information, and is very explicit and insistent on the matter, saying, “as with all administrative data ingested by the Census Bureau, the confidentiality of the citizenship data will be fully protected by Title 13, Section 9, which prohibits: “… mak[ing] any publication whereby the data furnished by any particular establishment or individual under this title can be identified…””

Who do you think is holding the trump card here, our President or the Supreme Court and the US Census Bureau?

Irene Velarde is a bilingual Staff Writer on the Revolution English News Team. Irene is passionate about sharing news and resources with immigrants, and educating and engaging with Revolution English subscribers. Prior to joining the News Team, Irene worked in educational settings for more than 4 years in China and the United States.