The GOP's 2020 Census Power Grab is Unconstitutional -- and It Must Be Stopped

The result would be a systemic undercounting of immigrant communities – with two grossly unfair results.

The Trump administration’s decision to alter the 2020 Census to ask people if they are American citizens is an unconstitutional power grab that would hurt many disadvantaged Americans. It must be stopped. 

The U.S. Constitution calls for “actual enumeration” of the total population for an explicit purpose:  To count the residents – not just citizens, residents – of every state to properly allocate congressional representatives to the states based on population.

Asking whether someone is a citizen could cause some immigrants — not just non-citizens, but also those with family members or close friends who aren’t citizens — not to respond for fear that they or their loved ones would be deported. In the current climate of fear, this isn’t an irrational response.

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The result would be a systemic undercounting of immigrant communities – with two grossly unfair results.

First, these communities and the states they’re in would get less federal aide. Census data is used in over 132 programs nationwide to allocate over $675 billion each year.

An undercount would deprive many immigrant communities and their states of the health care, education and assistance they need and are entitled to.  

Second, these communities and the states they’re in would have fewer representatives in Congress. The Census count determines the distribution of congressional seats among states. Under the Constitution, these seats depend on the total number of people residing in the state, not just citizens. 

Which is the real reason for this move by the Trump administration. It’s no secret that immigrants with the right to vote tend to vote for Democrats. So undercounting neighborhoods that are heavily Latino or Asian would mean fewer Democratic members of Congress.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the citizenship question is necessary in order to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Baloney. The Trump administration has shown zero interest in the Voting Rights Act. It has even defended voter suppression laws in court.

This is nothing but a Republican power grab orchestrated by the White House. Tell your members of Congress, it must be stopped.

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Reich's documentary, "Saving Capitalism," is streaming on Netflix. His latest book, "The Common Good," is available in bookstores now.