The process of printing hundreds of millions of forms for the U.S. 2020 Census commenced last week, shortly after the deadline beyond which printing could not be further delayed, according to the Trump administration.
A week earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court majority rejected the administration's rationale for adding a question asking whether the person filling out the Census form and others in the household are U.S. citizens.
No citizenship question has been on U.S. Census surveys since 1950 because it discouraged people from returning census forms. The fear that the federal government will target non-citizens is longstanding. There have been valid reasons for such fear in past decades for people of color, people who aren't citizens or who have recent immigrants living with them.
American attitudes toward immigrants have varied throughout history. In the Declaration of Independence, one of the complaints against the British king was that: "He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."
On the 243rd anniversary of that declaration, the U.S. government is not so welcoming. President Trump's myriad attempts to keep people from Muslim majority countries out of the United States, his insistence on building a barrier wall on the southwest border, demanding that Mexico prevent Central American asylum seekers from entering the United States, and allowing refugees from violence and poverty to languish in squalid, overcrowded camps. This administration continues to separate children from parents and apparently is trying to make conditions in the United States as bad for immigrants as the horrors that caused them to flee their home countries.
All this is to say that millions of immigrants have good cause to be distrustful of the U.S. government.
Yet is is important that everyone living in the United States be counted. The decennial census is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House among the 50 states. The census count also determines how billions of dollars in federal spending will be distributed for everything from highways to health care.
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Several analyses of likely 2020 census results project that Montana will gain a second House seat. For now, the state has one House member who represents more people than any other. If Montana gets a second seat in 2022 election, we will have the two lowest population House districts in the nation.
Back in May, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced that he was going to help Montana get that second seat by passing a law that requires the U.S. Census Bureau to include a citizenship question on its survey. In a guest opinion published by The Billings Gazette (and in the Missoulian on May 21), Daines was clear about his purpose: to discourage census participation in other states with large immigrant populations so that Montana would be more likely to gain a second House seat.
"But most importantly, for Montana, the question could lead to a major win," Daines wrote.
The idea of deliberately skewing the census results is abhorrent first because it is dishonest, but also because it is contrary to the U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 2 mandates a population count every 10 years, not a count of citizens only, but of free persons, indentured persons and slaves. The stipulation that slaves were to count as three-fifths of a person was removed by the 14th Amendment, which still left "Indians not taxed" out of the count. Today, American Indians are subject to taxes the same as anyone else and they count the same as everyone else.
Fortunately, Daines' proposal gained no traction in the Senate and the question appears to be moot for the next decade.
Now there is work to do to ensure that all people are counted. Montana's delegation should be fighting for sufficient funding to get an accurate census count everywhere, especially in rural regions such as Montana. Before adjourning for the Independence Day week-long recess, the House passed a $383.3 billion package of five of the 12 appropriation bills needed for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. The package includes $8.45 billion for the Census Bureau. Montana's sole representative, Greg Gianforte, joined most of his Republican colleagues and voted against the bill.