Right-wing groups are cheering the Trump administration’s plan, announced this week, to force a last-minute question about citizenship status onto the U.S. census. The administration has justified the move with bogus claims that the data is needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act—as if that’s a priority for President Trump or Attorney General Jeff Sessions—but many right-wing activists and pundits are making it clear that partisan and anti-immigrant politics are behind the measure.
John and Andy Schlafly—sons of the late right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly—praised Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for giving in to the Justice Department’s request, saying that Ross “has laid the groundwork for the president’s reelection by restoring the citizenship question to the census.” Their anti-immigrant mindset was revealed in the way they mocked critics of the administration’s move:
Perhaps opponents of Trump should take solace in how Trump is not ordering a census like the one used by the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. The Roman census required everyone to return to their home city to be counted, and today that rule would have the salutary effect of deporting at their own expense the many millions of illegal aliens.
At Vox, Dara Lind wrote about the controversy, saying “Democrats worry the real purpose of having the census count citizens is to change how seats in Congress are allocated.” A look at the right-wing response to the Trump administration’s decision confirms that is exactly the goal of many right-wing pundits and activists who would like to steer political power away from communities with significant numbers of noncitizen residents by not treating them as people for the purposes of apportionment and redistricting.
For example, anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) celebrated, saying “Citizens should not have their representation in Congress diluted due to the concentrated presence of illegal aliens in lawless cities and states.” Last month King and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) urged Ross to include a citizenship question to provide for “an accurate count of how many aliens, both legal and illegal, are now residing in the United States.”
Mark Krikorian, head of the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been actively defending the Trump administration’s move. He said on right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham’s show that what California and other states challenging the decision “really fear, ultimately, is that House districts, House of Representative apportionment to the states, will be based on actual citizens rather than just warm bodies.”
The notorious anti-immigrant, pro-voter-suppression activist Kris Kobach is bragging about having pitched the idea to Trump last year. He also wrote a January column in Breitbart promoting the idea. He was back at Breitbart this week praising the decision and dismissing legal arguments against the decision as “nonsense.”
“An illegal alien is not a resident of the United States is any meaningful sense,” Kobach argued at Breitbart this week, suggesting that undocumented people are the equivalent of an invading army. “In other words, if the 1810 census had been conducted in 1812, Congress would have had to count the invading British forces in allocating congressional seats.”
Joining the right-wing chorus was Jonathan Tobin in National Review, who called it “inherently fraudulent” for undocumented immigrants to be counted for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives. The Constitution requires that all persons living in the U.S. be counted, but Tobin wrote that “counting illegal aliens in the census” is “about blurring the distinction between citizens and non-citizens so as to advance an agenda of amnesty for illegal immigrants.”
The citizenship question was also praised by J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department employee who has built a career in right-wing media and advocacy circles by accusing the Obama Justice Department of failing to protect the civil rights of white people. Adams was part of the Trump administration’s ill-fated voter suppression commission. Adams, who now runs a group called the Public Interest Legal Foundation, said on a right-wing radio show that “the usual suspects” are “scared to death” that a citizenship question would put an end to areas with large numbers of noncitizens getting “extra political power.”
Advocates for a fair and accurate census have pointed out that an untested citizenship question would sacrifice the integrity of the 2020 count, in part by inserting a disruptive and untested element into a questionnaire that was developed over the past decade through careful research and planning, and in part by discouraging participation in communities of people who may already be concerned about giving the federal government information about their families in this current political climate.
The state of California has filed a legal challenge against the administration’s decision, with a dozen states expected to join an additional challenge being organized by New York’s attorney general.