President Donald J. Trump and his administration want the 2020 census to reflect an accurate count of citizens and non-citizens, legal and illegal, who are present in the United States. Having been blocked by the courts on restoring a question regarding citizenship to the census itself, Trump has announced an executive order to use data from several federal departments to obtain answers.
The census is one of the nation’s most important keystones. Its data is used to apportion representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and votes in the Electoral College. The former is the body that is designed to most closely represent citizens in Washington. The latter is how we elect presidents. So it’s important. 2020 will be, among other things, a redistricting year, which will impact the maps for state legislative elections as well as the U.S. House.
Trump isn’t asking for anything that hasn’t been done before. In fact, Trump is restoring one of the oldest ideas and purposes of the census.
First, the government conducts a census every 10 years because the Constitution requires it. Article 1, Section 2 specifies this decennial count, beginning in 1790 and continuing as long as the republic lives. After the first census, Thomas Jefferson wanted the data to include a question about citizenship. By the census of 1820, the fourth U.S. census, it did. Thomas Jefferson was of course a founder of the republic, author of the Declaration of Independence, architect of the Louisiana Purchase, and president of these United States. Thomas Jefferson put citizenship in the DNA of the census.
The first census, conducted in 1790, took place under President George Washington, while Jefferson was secretary of state. It found 3,919,214 people in the country, which President Washington believed was too low and inaccurate. In the 21 censuses since, various changes have been made, mostly with the aim of improving it. At one point, for instance, the U.S. Marshals Service conducted it. It later moved under the auspices of statistical specialists. Those specialists first worked under the Census Office, which is now the Census Bureau.
In most renditions of the census from 1820 to 1950, citizenship was inquired in some way. In 1940, for instance, citizenship followed a question about place of birth. In 1960, the citizenship question was replaced by a question about place of birth. In 1970, the question reappeared on the census “long form.”
In 2010, the census had a short form that went to every household in the country, and a long form that went to a smaller subset of the nation. The long form was then eliminated completely, which neatly removed the question of citizenship. Many on the left defended this departure from American history. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, established in 2000, has always asked about citizenship.
All President Trump proposed was putting that question back into the census for 2020 in a few words: “Is the person a citizen of the United States?” It’s clear Trump is easily within the mainstream of history, and he is also on the side of the majority of the American people. Polling has indicated 60 percent approve including it, including 55 percent of Hispanics.
As a liberty-loving Latino, I strongly support it. Legal immigrants who obtain American citizenship are especially proud of this accomplishment, and they are proud to call themselves Americans. In our deeply divided times, this is about as close to a national consensus as you can get.
Citizenship, security and sovereignty cannot be separated. America depends on them to survive and thrive.
President Trump’s executive order raises two important questions. The first is practical. How will using data from an array of federal agencies impact the overall accuracy of the census? We don’t and won’t have an answer on this for a year or more. But it’s reasonable to infer that amassing and sifting data from the several agencies that routinely collect it, and creating one survey from that, could be far more accurate than the traditional census.
The second question is political. How will the president’s decision play out over the course of the primaries and the election? It’s certain to draw strong reactions from the left. Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez has already put his party on record against asking about citizenship at all.
The majority of voters agree with Trump for now. You can be sure the Democrats, the mainstream media and #NeverTrumpers will say and do everything they can to change that between now and November 2020.
Chris Salcedo is the executive director of The Conservative Hispanic Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to the development of the conservative Hispanic community.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.