How exactly will the 2020 census be?

America's census becomes a political issue

For the first time in decades, all residents of the USA are supposed to indicate what nationality they have. Opponents of the idea fear that the answers could be misused to deport illegal immigrants.

If the supporters of different political currents are increasingly irreconcilable, this polarization inevitably affects more and more social aspects. This trend has continued unchecked since Donald Trump was elected US President, albeit under the opposite direction. While Barack Obama was a bogeyman with his progressive plans for conservatives, Trump's national-populist course is an horror for many liberals and leftists. In this climate, even administrative measures that should actually appear unsuspecting get under the wheels.

In the mill of polarization

This is exactly what is happening at the next census planned for 2020. Normally it would be a well-known administrative act, the necessity of which is largely undisputed - if it weren't for Trump's often inflammatory campaign against paperless immigrants. At the end of March, the Minister of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, instructed the Census office in an internal letter to ask in 2020 at the request of the Justice Minister whether the respondents were American citizens.

This instruction led to legal actions by now 18 states, a number of cities and an association of mayors. They all fear that the question of citizenship will be misused by the Trump government to deport paperless people. They also fear that paperless people, foreigners and all other opponents of such a question will refuse to answer and thus distort the results of the census.

The question of citizenship in the censuses is not new. However, since 1970 it has only had to be answered by a small part of the population. At that time, the Census Bureau introduced two different questionnaires: a long one and a short one. The nationality was only asked in the long run, which was given to significantly fewer residents. In 2010, the census was limited to a single questionnaire with only ten questions, among which the nationality did not figure.

The subject has become a first-rate political issue. Conservatives are astonished at the "theater" that the opponents put on. They point out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions finally wanted to use the question for a very honorable purpose: to be able to better monitor whether the provisions of the electoral law are being respected and the right to vote of all citizens is being respected.

For the opponents of the question of nationality, however, the problem lies precisely in the request for sessions. After all, not only is the President known as an outspoken hawk on immigration issues, but also his Minister of Justice. They do not buy from him that concerns about the citizens' right to vote could be bothering him. And the fact that Trade Minister Ross also announced in his instruction to the Census Office that the authorities would then compare the answer to the question of nationality with other official documents did not make the matter less suspicious, on the contrary. The critics saw this as just further evidence of the administration's sinister intentions.

It is true that the American Constitution stipulates that a population survey be carried out every ten years in order to determine the representation of the people in Congress. But there is no nationality clause. To claim that the results from those years in which citizenship was not asked would have made the exercise worthless would be grotesque, especially since the census has been supplemented with new measuring instruments such as the annual American Community Survey in recent decades.

Suspicious motives

Trump himself, with his baseless allegations about alleged massive electoral fraud and with his campaign to expel law-abiding undocumented workers, has contributed significantly to widespread distrust in the intentions of his administration. The main suffering is the quality of the census. The preparations for this would have to enter their hot phase in autumn so that the mammoth plant has a reasonable chance of success. It would be almost a miracle if the courts should have resolved the dispute by then.