Our Opinion: 'Citizenship question' has no place on ballot

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The 2020 census, the decennial headcount of all persons living within the United States, looms ever closer. Along with it come accusations that the Trump administration is trying to skew the results by including the controversial "citizenship question" for the first time since 1950.

The census seeks to count all persons, not just citizens, for the purposes of funding appropriations, policy decisions and the apportionment of representation in Congress. A count that does not reflect the true situation on the ground can be devastating to communities with large immigrant populations — cohorts that have had a historically low response rate to the census. This is due to a combination of factors, among them unawareness that the count is being conducted and fear that candor about their status could be used against them.

The census is administered under the auspices of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who insisted that he included the citizenship query to fulfill a Justice Department request regarding voting-age population data. According to The Washington Post, Mr. Ross actually began discussing the addition of the question at the beginning of his tenure — before Justice made its request. Adding to doubts about the legitimacy of Mr. Ross's claim is Attorney General Jeff Sessions reluctance to enforce the Voting Rights Act — the ostensible justification for his department's original request.

According to Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, the Bay State currently has about 6.8 million residents, of which half a million are legal immigrants and half a million are undocumented. Cities with high immigrant populations, like other urban centers, would suffer greatly in terms of reduced funding and representation if their foreign-born populations were not counted. Many children of illegal immigrants are citizens requiring health care coverage and education, and not only does fairness demand that they get it, an artificially lowered count while deprive Massachusetts of the funding needed to provide it.

It is no stretch to conclude that this is purposeful on the part of an administration that traffics heavily in xenophobia to reinforce the loyalties of its political base. The preponderance of America's foreign-born population tends to be concentrated in Democratic-voting states, so any reapportionment of congressional districts would have the added benefit of helping to perpetuate the majority status of Mr. Trump's party.

Berkshire County, where the population has been steadily hemorrhaging since the 1970s, has little use for political impediments to an accurate census count as it scrambles for what funding it can get. Its loss of residents has already caused it to become a victim of congressional consolidation. If its immigrant population is discouraged from standing up and being counted, the inaccurate results will hurt all Berkshires residents equally. Thomas Matuszko, the leader of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, has asked in letter to the Department of Commerce that the census question be dropped (Eagle, July 20.)

The attorneys general of 18 states, including Massachusetts, have filed suit in federal court to have the citizenship question stricken from the census. Given the clear biases of the Trump administration, this lawsuit may be the best hope Berkshirites and Bay Staters have for an accurate count. We hope that it will be adjudicated and resolved in the plaintiffs' favor long before April 1, 2020 — Census Day. This will give census workers time to reach out and reassure every resident that they have nothing to fear about being counted.




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