On the Census, Trump and GOP allies target Latinos | Moran

Posted Dec 18, 2018

New Jersey's top legislative leaders just tried to pull a slippery stunt that would have cheapened our democracy by tilting the electoral map in their favor, but they were forced to abandon it last weekend after the party's base revolted.

"We don't have to cheat to win," said Analilia Mejia, head of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

Imagine if the Republican base in this Trump era had the same respect for fair play.

The question is relevant today as a federal judge prepares to rule on a challenge to the Trump administration's shameless effort to undercount Latinos in the 2020 census by adding a question on citizenship status. There is no doubt that the question will scare off a portion of the Latino population, leading to an undercount.

That means states like New Jersey, with heavy Latino populations, will not get their fair share of political power in Congress, since the size of each state's delegation is based on Census data. It means that within New Jersey, cities and towns with heavy Latino populations will not get their fair share of political power in Trenton, since the state's political map is based on Census data as well.

And because Washington distributes hundreds of billions of dollarsbased on this same data, states like New Jersey will get less than they deserve, again. Keep in mind that New Jersey already ranks among the biggest losers when it comes to federal aid, receiving 74 cents for every dollar we send to Washington, according to a 2015 study by the Rockefeller Institute. The Trump tax plan added to the imbalance by capping the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, and Trump Census plan will now make it worse again.

But it's the offense to democracy that really stings. The Trump administration pretends that its only goal is to accurately describe the country's population, as if they are adding a question about pet ownership. Wilbur Ross, who runs the Census as the Secretary of Commerce, told Congress that he had added this question without even discussing it with Trump or his senior aides. That, we know now, was a flat-out lie. The idea was first raised to him by Steven Bannon, Trump's former political strategist.

Why would Ross lie about that? The only reasonable answer is that he was trying to hide the political nature of this move. It's not about accuracy. It's about gaining partisan advantage.

Since Trump opened his campaign, he has been bashing immigrants with malicious lies, starting with his claim that they are more likely to commit crimes. He has threatened mass deportations. He has taken every opportunity to rile up his base by describing desperate parents and their children as threats to our national security.

The Census Bureau is barred by law from sharing information with immigration officials. But if you were an undocumented immigrant, would you trust this administration to play by the rules at the risk of being deported? Suppose you are a legal immigrant but are one of the estimated 500,000 people in New Jersey living in a home with at least one undocumented immigrant. Would you want to draw the attention of the federal government these days? In focus groups organized by experts at the Census Bureau, legal and illegal immigrants expressed fear that their information would be shared.

A handful of Republicans in New Jersey have objected to this scheme, including Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, who warns that it will cut into federal aid to New Jersey. But most Republicans are going along quietly, either because they agree with Trump or they are scared of his ability to rile up the party's base voters against his critics. New Jersey is one of 18 states that have joined this suit, but not a single Republican attorney general has joined them.

These are scary times. Our democracy is not about to collapse into chaos or military rule, but that's now how democracies usually die. They die from 1,000 small cuts, as authoritarian leaders attack the press, challenge the independence of judges, and corrupt the integrity of elections. This attempt to undermine the accuracy of the Census for political advantage would be just one more cut. Given the indifference of most Republicans, our best hope to prevent it lies with the federal courts.

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