Congressional Democrats are attempting to block a bill that would add one simple question to the Census: “are you a United States citizen?” They defend their position on precedent, claiming that counting everyone, citizen or non-citizen, has been the convention for decades. But, just because we’ve been making a mistake doesn’t mean we should allow it to continue.
To truly put an end to this debate, you must understand why we have a Census, and how the House of Representatives operates. The House was formed to give representation to the American people based on population. This representation is then checked by the Senate to keep large states like California from abusing their increased federal influence. In order to determine the appropriate number of Representatives per state, the Census was established.
In fact, it was the Census’ strictly defined purpose that initially gave rise to the three-fifths compromise. Southern slave states argued that all people should be counted, ironic since they ensured slaves were denied all other constitutional rights, while Northern, non-slave states, insisted that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not be counted. In essence, the debate was about citizenship, not humanity. In the end, each slave was counted as three-fifths of a citizen.
If the argument is about citizenship, then the Democrats are arguing what should be a non-issue. Non-citizens are by definition not United States citizens. Since they are not citizens, then why should we allow them to affect the distribution of Representatives in a political system they have no Constitutional right to participate in? If we look at the debate, the answer is clear. Non-citizens should not be counted in the census because counting them would disenfranchise voters in states with lower non-citizen populations while rewarding states with high concentrations of permanent residents and illegal immigrants.
That said, the information collected from non-citizens is still valuable. It is beneficial to keep track of the number of non-citizens currently residing in the United States, particularly as a gauge of our ability as a nation to attract foreign talent. As such, the current solution is seemingly flawless. By adding the citizenship question, the Census can distinguish between the current population and citizen distribution. With the updated Census, the United States government can continue to count everyone and correctly determine the appropriate distribution of Representatives. It’s a “win-win” solution. That is unless you’re in favor of disenfranchising American voters; in which case, you might want to stop this bill.