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SPLC Attacks Trump's 'White Nationalist' Agenda of Asking About Citizenship in 2020 Census

On the day after the 2018 midterm elections, the Left-wing smear outfit the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a petition calling on readers to "tell the new Congress to block Trump's white nationalist agenda." The petition connects the president with America's "resurgent white supremacist movement" and accuses Trump of attempting to "rig" the 2020 census.

"By including a question about citizenship, the Trump administration wants to use the decennial Census as a weapon of intimidation against immigrants, one that would distort the results," the SPLC breathlessly warned. "Congress must take steps to stop this scheme."

Indeed, the Trump administration aims to ask a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, but this question is not intended as a "weapon of intimidation against immigrants," but rather as a way to strengthen voting protections for minority voters.

In his letter about the citizenship question, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross noted that the Department of Justice "and the courts use [census block level citizenship voting Age population] data for determining violations of Section 2 of the voting Rights Act ('VRA'), and having these data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the Act."

Section 2 of the VRA bans any voting practice that has a discriminatory effect, regardless of whether or not the practice was enacted for a discriminatory purpose.

Ironically, the SPLC's petition calls for a reauthorization and strengthening of the VRA. The petition's language seems slightly confusing, however. The bullet point reads, "Reauthorize and Strengthen the Voting Rights Act," but the description reads, "Congress must enact a new Voting Rights Act to ensure fair elections and unfettered access to the ballot for everyone."

Does the SPLC want to protect the current VRA? If so, why not support Trump's citizenship question? If not, why defend the VRA in its bullet point? Yet the language in the description suggests the SPLC wants a new VRA, perhaps one designed to suit its Left-wing activism.

As for the citizenship question, the SPLC's opposition seems particularly strange, given the fact that the Census Bureau already asks such a question every year in its American Community Survey, a survey that covers 2.6 percent of the population annually, as reported by the Pew Research Center.

Ross said the census form would use the exact same wording as what is already used in the American Community Survey. That question asks respondents to check one of five categories. The first three apply to U.S. citizens at birth: born in the U.S., born in a U.S. territory, or born abroad with at least one U.S. citizen parent. Respondents may say they are a naturalized U.S. citizen, and then are asked for their naturalization year. The final category is "not a U.S. citizen."

U.S. Census Bureau screenshot of the citizenship question from the American Community Survey.

The survey does not ask whether noncitizens are legally in the country. Furthermore, it is illegal to share a person's census responses with law enforcement or immigration agencies. Even illegal immigrants should not fear to mark that they are not U.S. citizens.

Furthermore, a citizenship question was asked in each decennial census of the total population from 1890 to 1950, and in 1820, 1830, and 1870. Until 1920, the Census Bureau only asked the question of adult men, as women and children automatically had the same citizenship status as their husbands or fathers. Since 1960, however, the citizenship question has only been asked of a sample of households, on the census long form or the American Community Survey.

So why does the SPLC oppose it so much? A lawsuit filed this past March may contain the answer.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra — the same state AG who defended a law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortion before the Supreme Court — sued Secretary Ross over the census question. Becerra argues that if the census undercounts immigrants, it would fall short of a complete population count and therefore violate its constitutional purpose: to divide up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on the population.

Importantly, census numbers are also used to allocate billions of dollars in federal funds. If immigrants refuse to answer the census, it could reduce the number of congressional districts and the amount of federal funding allocated to states with large numbers of immigrants, like California, which has more than any other state, according to Pew.

Many high-immigrant states are dominated by Democrats, but Republican-led Florida and Texas also have large numbers of immigrants.

Becerra, as a left-wing leader of a left-wing state, intends to attack Trump for his return to the old practice of asking about citizenship on the census — a practice Ross argues will enable the enforcement of the very law the SPLC claims to defend, and a practice the Census Bureau already carries out every year.

While Becerra cited a recent rise in immigrants' fears about the confidentiality of their personal information in surveys, it remains illegal for census data to be shared with law enforcement agencies.

The Ross letter argues that there is no "definitive, empirical support" for the claim that putting a citizenship question on the 2020 census would reduce response rates. While some people did not answer the question on the American Community Survey, the Ross letter noted "similar nonresponse rate ranges" for other questions on the survey.

However, many noncitizens do give incorrect answers to the citizenship question. Among noncitizen census respondents, about 30 percent falsely claimed to have citizenship.

Importantly, Ross said the citizenship question will be the last one on the form, in order to "minimize any impact on decennial census response rates."

Naturally, the SPLC did not stop with the census attack. The group's petition also argues that "President Trump's role in electrifying the white supremacist movement cannot be ignored," and urges Congress to "hold hearings to investigate the rise in hate and extremism in this country and on possible solutions."

While white nationalists have reared their ugly heads in the riots in Charlottesville, Va., the SPLC has also accused Trump of inspiring the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pa. — despite the shooter's hatred for Trump and Trump's notorious friendship with Jews. Trump also called for investigations into white nationalist terrorism in a speech on Wednesday.

Finally, the SPLC also mentioned the "Trump deportation machine" as part of the president's alleged "white nationalist" agenda. Rather than working with Trump to address illegal immigration and apply the law, Congress should "hold the administration accountable for its abuses," the SPLC argued.

While some of the SPLC's suggestions — that Congress investigate white supremacists, for instance — have some merit, the SPLC's main focus seems myopically focused on opposing Trump, not securing the good of the country.

Americans should expect nothing less from an organization that routinely brands mainstream conservative and Christian groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, ACT for America, the Family Research Council (FRC) and others, even after a terrorist used the group's "hate map" to target FRC in 2012.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.