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Census Citizenship Question: A Look at the Calendar Matter

20 May 2019

On a rather frequent basis, I get to spend time with, and engage in conversation with, a wonderful group of Christian men. Topics addressed in our discussions run the spectrum from matters of our faith to those of politics and society. Part of my attraction to, and appreciation for, this group is that the tenants of our faith run throughout, and provide foundation for, whatever the topic might be. That is the case even when we get into what might be considered trivia.

In fact, during a recent gathering, we spent substantial time and energy exploring a question that was put on the table under the “trivia” heading. One gentleman asked how the date for Easter is determined. When none of us could give the precise answer, he reported having read that Easter is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on, or after, the vernal equinox. That report led us to research “vernal equinox”. After this discussion had gone on for a while, somebody piped up and said, “When I want to know the date for Easter, I just look at the calendar.” We all laughed and went on to other topics.

That “look at the calendar” statement stuck with me. It points to a great truth. That is, deciding how to address some matters does not require all the discussion, all of the back-and-forth, that we invest in deciding on a course of action. There is a rather straight line to the answer, to what should be done. I hold that this is the case with deciding whether there should be a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The situation referred to here came about when Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross approved a question on citizenship for the 2020 Census. The following segments from an article by Peter Ciurczak provide an overview regarding the contentious debate resulting from Ross’ action. The article is titled, “Citizenship and the census, in context”:

In late 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Jeff Sessions requested that the Census Bureau, which is overseen by the Commerce Department, incorporate into the 2020 census a question on citizenship status. The DOJ argued that the more granular data allowed by the census would be useful in enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against any citizen’s voting rights on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group..

A number of previous census directors have written to Ross opposing the addition of a citizenship question, while 14 states led by California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra are suing the Trump administration over the inclusion of the question. The Attorneys General charge that introducing a question of citizenship goes against the constitutional requirement to “count each person in our country – whether citizen or noncitizen – ‘once, only once, and in the right place.

Seeing that the issue of a census citizenship question does not require all the back-and-forth it is receiving might start with an examination of the claim in the final sentence above. That is, the argument by a group of attorneys general that the Constitution requires counting of each person in our country. As best as I can determine, they take this position based on a part of Article I, sec. 2, clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution. It says:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Looking above, the crux of the argument from the attorneys general hinges on “…of all other Persons”. From https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080805163554AA4Tv6K, consider the following analysis of that argument in a post titled, “What does “three fifth’s of all other persons” mean in the CONSTITUTION?”:

It was a compromise between states that supported slavery and those that didn’t when it came to how representatives would be assigned to states and to how taxes would be distributed to the states. Those states which didn’t support slavery only wanted to count the free inhabitants of each state – meaning those states without slavery would receive a greater proportion of representation. Those states which supported slavery wanted all the states inhabitants to count – free or not, which would have given those states more representation. The biggest part, however, was that since slaves could not vote, states with slaves (in particular the slaveholders themselves) would have greater representation in house of representatives and in the electoral college.

The first takeaway from this quote is that “all other persons” refers to slaves. By no means does this phrase require counting every person in the country, including any who might have been here illegally. Interestingly, “Indians” were not to be counted. That was an exception. For me, this analysis totally destroys the prime argument being put forth by the attorneys general. There is an exception for one group and “all other persons” refers to slaves, not everybody. This is a “look at the calendar” moment.

The second point that demands attention is the motivation of the attorneys general; especially California’s because of its large illegal migrant population. That motivation is very similar to those that were at play with regard to slaves. This is about increasing the number of persons counted in the census so that states get a larger number of representatives in the House of Representatives. The census count also determines the number of electoral votes allocated to each state. Consequently, in the pursuit of power to influence governmental decisions, counting illegal migrants definitely helps.

Beyond representatives and electoral votes, this push to count illegal migrants is about money going from the federal government to states. An article titled, “Debunking the Myths about the Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census Form” includes this statement: “Census data also influence the allocation of more than $800 billion in federal government resources to states, localities, and families every year, such as for health care, education, housing, transportation, rural access to broadband, and other services.” This is further reason for states to push counting of illegal immigrants.

Another argument opposing the citizenship question is that there will be an undercount because some individuals will be reluctant to answer the citizenship question. Given what has been addressed to this point, it seems obvious that we should not be counting those who will not answer because they are in the country illegally. That being the case, why be concerned? Again, this is a “look at the calendar” issue.

It troubles and amazes me that, in this illegal immigration battle, the impact on American citizens seems to get little or no consideration. This is reflected in the tremendous emphasis on illegal migrants while little or no attention is given to consequences, such as what is reported by George J. Borjas. The following is from his article titled, “Yes, Immigration Hurts American Workers”:

Both low- and high-skilled natives are affected by the influx of immigrants. But because a disproportionate percentage of immigrants have few skills, it is low-skilled American workers, including many blacks and Hispanics, who have suffered most from this wage dip. The monetary loss is sizable. The typical high school dropout earns about $25,000 annually. According to census data, immigrants admitted in the past two decades lacking a high school diploma have increased the size of the low-skilled workforce by roughly 25 percent. As a result, the earnings of this particularly vulnerable group dropped by between $800 and $1,500 each year.

Given all that is presented here, and similarly compelling considerations not even addressed, I cannot make sense of the back-and-forth regarding having a citizenship question on the 2020 census. This is a “look at the calendar” matter.

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