A census undercount hurts us all

Mike KnaakColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

Proposing a citizenship question on the 2020 Census is nothing but yet again another bright shiny object that distracts us from the real issue – the purpose of the census and the importance of an accurate account.

An inaccurate count threatens our voice in government at all levels and could rob us of government funding for programs we all depend on. Rather than asking people if they are citizens, we should do everything we can to support 100-percent participation in the count.

The citizenship question thrills the “Make America White Again” crowd but for policy and practice it’s useless and actually a danger.

Article 1, Section 2, of the Constitution specifically dictates why, how and when the count takes place. Congress has delegated the actual work to the Department of Commerce and the “enumeration” takes place every 10 years.

The census is a count of who is here and where they live. The data lists who lives in a residence, their age, gender, relationship, race and ethnicity.

From that data, political boundaries are set for everything from members of Congress to members of city councils. In addition, funding for all types of government programs, including education, health and transportation, rests on a true count.

And here’s what’s wrong about pushing the citizenship question: the Constitution demands an “enumeration” – a count – without mentioning citizenship.

Including the question would deter many immigrants and their families, both legal and undocumented, from filling out and returning their census forms.

Anything that discourages full participation hurts all of us. In census lingo, that’s an undercount – tallies that are lower than the actual number of people living here.

If there’s an undercount in Minnesota, we could lose a member of Congress to another state where the population has grown faster or produced a more accurate count. Instead of eight members in the House of Representatives, we could end up with seven. The redrawn district lines might place Central Minnesota in a congressional district that stretches to Moorhead and International Falls. With fewer representatives, citizens of Minnesota would have less clout in Washington.

In the Legislature, district shapes and sizes would change. Cities and other places with an undercount would be disproportionally under-represented.

In the Electoral College, Minnesota has 10 votes. With one less member of Congress, we’d have one less Electoral Vote, making us less important in future presidential campaigns. If you don’t think the Electoral College matters, just ask Donald Trump. Without it, he’d just be another old, sort-of-rich guy who used to be on TV.

While the argument rages over a citizenship question, the fact is the government already tracks people who are not citizens or are not here legally.

The Department of Homeland Security issues a yearly tally of illegal immigration, including countries immigrants come from and where they end up living.

In addition to the Constitutionally mandated 10-year count, the Census Bureau collects detailed information about people. The American Community Survey produces yearly detailed data on people by surveying a selected portion of the population.

Here’s the ACS citizenship question: If this person is not a U.S. citizen, mark the “No, not a U.S. citizen” box. Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) or “green card” holders, or other non-naturalized immigrants or visitors to the U.S. are not citizens of the United States and therefore should mark the “No, not a U.S. citizen” box.

We have the ACS because policy makers and business people wanted more detailed and more frequent data available than the 10-year census. That need produced the long-form census questionnaire, which surveyed one in six households. In 2005, the ACS, with its rolling data collection, replaced the long form.

If you are curious about your community, the ACS offers detailed facts. You can check them out here: factfinder.census.gov. You’ll be able to see the 10-year census data, the ACS and other census surveys.

The government already counts citizens and noncitizens – both documented and undocumented. We should be worried about getting an accurate count of people…the enumeration the Constitution calls for…and not be distracted by a fake issue.

Author: Mike Knaak

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