The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in the suit by a group of Democratic attorneys general to stop the plan of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to include a question about citizenship status on the upcoming 2020 decennial census.
It’s possible that the Democrats (joined by the editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post) are right, in some ways. It’s possible that noncitizens will, even if they are legal residents of the country, fear that answering the question will invite legal action against them. (It shouldn’t.) And they are right that the total count of residents, as required by the Constitution, will affect how many members of Congress each state will have and how congressional districts are drawn. And it’s certainly possible that the Trump administration’s motives in the matter are, in fact, political.
But the liberal response to the proposed question, first announced in 2018, is all wrong. They should instead have returned to the progressive tradition of encouraging citizenship. Anything less should be viewed as something the Democrats claim to despise: voter suppression (not to mention taxation without representation).
Democrats represent (if it can be called representation) far more noncitizens than do Republicans. According to an Axios analysis, the foreign-born population exceeds 20% in more than 50 Democratic congressional districts. In the district of celebrity Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 25% of residents are foreign-born noncitizens, according to the American Community Survey. In light of the fact that the celebrity politician won the primary election that rocketed her to fame by just 4,000 votes, that’s a meaningful statistic.
In contrast, there are just 11 Republican congressional districts in which noncitizens comprise more than 20% of the population. In many Republican districts, the noncitizen percentage is vanishingly small. For instance, in Rep. Jim Jordan’s 4th Ohio Congressional District, just 1.9% of the population are noncitizens.
It’s certainly possible that losing their lawsuit against Ross will lead to political disadvantage for Democrats. But a party that professes such great concern about voter suppression should have, at the very least, complemented its legal action with a national naturalization campaign. Such would have continued a long-standing liberal tradition.
When it was founded by Jane Addams, one of the earliest and most influential progressives, Chicago’s Hull House offered both English language and citizenship classes. In her famous autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull House, Addams wrote these words contemporary Democrats should heed: “Every Settlement has classes in citizenship in which the principles of American institutions are expounded, and of these the community, as a whole, approves ... The treatment at a given moment of that foreign colony which feels itself outraged and misunderstood, either makes its constitutional rights clear to it, or forever confuses it on the subject.”
Rather than loudly encouraging citizenship, Democrats are content to represent residents who have no choice as to their representative — because they cannot vote. Their vote is, quite literally, suppressed. Nor is this a problem only at the federal level. In communities with large numbers of noncitizen immigrants, local election districts (such as that for a city council) must be drawn to reflect population totals. But again, noncitizens have no means to influence the outcome — and to be included in the local polities which have long been the lifeblood of American democracy.
Let’s hope Wilbur Ross prevails in his effort to include the citizenship question on the upcoming census, and let’s hope that elected officials across the board respond with a renewed commitment to encouraging American citizenship.
This piece originally appeared at Washington Examiner
Howard Husock is vice president for policy research and publications at the Manhattan Institute.
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