Update: California sues the Trump Administration over the Addition of Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census

I recently wrote a brief article describing California’s lawsuit against the Trump Administration over the Addition of Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census. That article generated quite a bit of discussion. You can read the article at: http://bit.ly/2qawVVV.

Newsletter reader Ted Russell has written a response to the various discussions that strikes me as common sense. Here is his response, published here with Ted’s permission:

Yes, data on citizenship status will be of great use to future genealogists. And yes, the question is legal and constitutional. But it will likely have the effect of either driving undocumented immigrants further into the shadows, or exposing and deporting them, and this administration knows this very well. The Census Bureau is not supposed to share individual information with other agencies, but based on this administration’s disregard for the law, it would be hard for a Census enumerator to convince a respondent that the information will not be shared with ICE.

Every time someone says “my Irish/German/Italian ancestor came here legally”, they need to be reminded that at one time there was no distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ immigration. The motivation for immigration was no different in 1620 or 1820 than in 2020 – to find a better life for one’s family. The immigrants of the 19th and early 20th century were no more noble than today’s immigrants from Latin America and Asia. If the Atlantic Ocean was 100 yards wide, the Irish, Germans, Polish, and Italians would have crossed it as willingly, and with as much disregard for the law, as Mexicans and Salvadorans cross the Rio Grande today.

Every time someone says “immigrants need to assimilate into our society”, they need to be reminded that immigrants have always established their own communities in the US where the first generation continued to speak their own language, struggling with English, while the second generation was typically bilingual and culturally assimilated, and the third generation was typically English-only and even more fully assimilated. Anyone old enough to have known their immigrant ancestors knows this, as does any genealogist who has researched immigrant families. Today’s immigrants from Latin America and Asia are no different. Yes, Mexican immigrants tend to live in communities with other Mexicans, but their children go to public schools, play basketball and football along with baseball and soccer, join the Army, enrich our economy with their hard work, and enrich our culture with their food, music, and traditions. This is the American story which periodic waves of ignorant xenophobia cannot erase.

33 Comments

Ted is a hypocrite!

He says the Trump administration has a “blatant disregard for the law” but Ted wants to conceal lawbreakers from the law! Which is it Ted??? Would love to get a response to my comment!

Sent from my iPhone

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    Hi joesprowl,
    Thank you for the question. I’ll limit my comments to the subject of the census and the proposed question on citizenship.
    The purpose of the census is to count the number of inhabitants, nothing more, nothing less. As I described in my comments, because of the well-documented animosity of the current administration to immigrants, this question will have the effect, whether intended or unintended, of discouraging many immigrants, including some who are here legally, from responding to the census.
    The purpose of the census is NOT to find lawbreakers, and in fact the census cannot legally be used for this purpose, since by law no one may “… make any publication whereby the data furnished by any particular establishment or individual under this title can be identified” [13 U.S. Code §9]. I am not advocating for concealing lawbreakers. I’m only advocating for an accurate census.
    Ted

    Liked by 3 people

This is not an appropriate article for the newsletter with the additional political comments included. This is politically one sided and not neutral. I am really insulted that this was included in a genealogy newsletter. We get enough of this political garbage elsewhere. Fake News!

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    —> This is not an appropriate article for the newsletter…

    I will point out that genealogists have used U.S. census records, and especially the information included as answers to various questions on census questionnaires, for more than a century. Census records are amongst the most useful tools we have. Any changes to census questionnaires will have a huge impact on future genealogists. As such, I will suggest that all possible proposed changes to questions on the census records should be front-page news on every genealogy web site. I strongly believe all genealogists should offer comments to the pros and cons of any proposed changes to census questions.

    Liked by 3 people

Yes, the census record is a treasure trove for those who consider themselves as genealogists or family historians. However, the original purposes for the census must also be considered. Each state needed to know how many individuals were living in their state, so they could proportionately represent those individuals in their legislatures. It was necessary to know correct numbers to provide for all those citizens in a number of ways, and that purpose has not changed. It has become a political “hot potato” in the current climate, but the census is not totally a political issue and should be considered in light of its real intent. Whatever your political leanings, please consider the impact of whatever decision is made.

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I don’t think this is an appropriate topic for a genealogy newsletter either. It is a political hot potato. What did you hope to do other than stir stuff up? We are all very aware of the political ramifications. Frankly, I get enough politics on 8chan.

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    —> I don’t think this is an appropriate topic for a genealogy newsletter either. It is a political hot potato.

    You are right that it has become a “political hot potato” but that is not the reason why it is a news item in this genealogy newsletter. As I have mentioned before, census records are amongst the most useful tools genealogists have. Any changes to census questionnaires will have a huge impact on future genealogists. As such, I will suggest that all possible proposed changes to questions on the census records should be front-page news on every genealogy web site. I strongly believe all genealogists should offer comments to the pros and cons of any proposed changes to census questions.

    As to the politics involved, I don’t pay much attention to that. I’ll let other people debate the politics involved.

    Liked by 1 person

I’d just say this: a properly phrased citizenship question would pose no threat to the undocumented (can we say illegal?) aliens in our midst. “Are you a citizen? – yes or no”; “Are the members of your family citizens? – yes or no” ; “If not citizens, what is your country of birth?” The only distinction made is citizen/non-citizen .. IF the question is phrased in this manner.

Keep in mind that there are (at least) three classes of non-citizens: legal residents (green card holders), visitors and short term residents (visa holders), and illegals. While their desire to do better for themselves and their families than might be possible in their home countries is worthy of admiration, the fact remains that they are here illegally (according to our laws, anyway) and have pushed aside those who have applied for entry. I would ask if those who have played by the rules should be penalized. Remember, too, that it was decided many decades ago that we could only absorb so many immigrants in a given year – at one time that number was 250,000, world wide. The number’s gone up, but there’s still a limit on how many immigrants we can reasonably accept and, it’s hoped, assimilate.

The original intent of the census was to count the citizens resident in a particular district, territory or state so as to apportion members of Congress. It’s only been relatively recently that it’s also served as a mechanism whereby federal largess is distributed.

Final comment – Mexico is the most obvious and visible “culprit”, but by no means the largest. The last numbers I recall seeing showed that the overwhelming majority of illegals come from China and other east asian countries, with Mexico and Latin America in general lagging well behind to total numbers. Oh, and by the way, just try immigrating to another country if you want to get a feeling for how liberal our immigration laws really are in comparison.

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    Robert, I’ll answer your first question. Of course you can say ‘illegal aliens’. You can also call other groups of people by names they prefer not to be called, but it isn’t any nicer. Yes, they are in violation of immigration laws by staying in this country, just as I am in violation of traffic laws when I speed, but I am not inherently ‘illegal’ and neither are they. (I might add that their contribution to our society is a net positive, while my action in speeding is a net negative.) We are all human beings. I suppose by some legal definition a non-citizen is an alien, but ‘alien’ has a sinister sound to it.
    The undocumented immigrants we’re talking about have done what humans have done throughout history, including the ancestors of every person reading this who is not a native of East Africa still living where our common ancestors evolved as Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago. They left their homes, fleeing dire poverty and violence, risking their lives in a dangerous journey north seeking a better life for their families. This constant migration to seek a better life is probably the most common theme uniting the families we study as genealogists.
    You might want to check the facts in your final paragraph. If you’re talking about total numbers, Mexico is by far the source of the greatest number of immigrants living in the US illegally: https://immigration.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000845#countries

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    In reply to Ted Russell’s comment on my posting, a couple of questions:

    1) Did these “undocumented immigrants” apply for entry to the US according to the rules we’ve established?
    2) When entering the US, did they present themselves to the immigration authorities at an established port of entry, as the rules we’ve established require?
    If the answer to either or both is “NO”, then they are illegally in the US and MAY be deported.
    Lest we get bogged down in an argument, let me say that I have a great deal of admiration for these illegals, many of whom have left home and family and placed themselves in life threatening situations to come to the US in order to make a better life for themselves and their families. The fact remains, however, that they are here in contravention of our laws, laws that thousands of others HAVE obeyed when applying for visas and entry into this country.
    I’ll say, too, that this group is just one “class” of illegals – there are those who have come on tourist or other visas and have overstayed their permitted stay and have become lost in the woodwork, so to speak. They would have been able to answer “Yes” to my earlier questions, of course, but have remained in the US illegally.
    Do immigrants, legal or otherwise, contribute to the US? By and large, the answer has to be yes, notwithstanding the millions (billions?) of dollars they remit to their home countries annually, and certainly notwithstanding the actions of a violent and occasionally vicious minority among them. Most – not all, but most – illegals are quiet, sober, hardworking individuals, people who would, if their home countries presented the opportunities ours does for self-advancement, work as hard – and successfully – at home as they do here. But success is difficult to achieve in a country where 95% of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of less than 5% of the population, where there is a small middle class, and fully 90% of the population is what we’d call the working poor.

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    Robert, all good points – thanks. I’m not disputing that those here illegally are in violation of the law.
    The crime rate among undocumented immigrants, while somewhat higher than for legal immigrants, is much lower than it is for citizens. This is the conclusion from the conservative Cato Institute, as reported in this New York Times article:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/us/trump-illegal-immigrants-crime.html
    As for the choice between staying at home or coming to the US, in recent years, in the last few years the net flow across the US-Mexico border has actually been reversed – there are now more people returning to Mexico than entering the US. This article by the Pew Institute has some good statistics:
    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/02/what-we-know-about-illegal-immigration-from-mexico/
    The observation that the RATE of change in immigration has decreased from Mexico while increasing from other countries may be the basis for the last statement in your first reply.

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    Illegal is illegal. Let’s cut out the euphemism “undocumented” and use the correct term. There isn’t a nation in the world that doesn’t want to know who is residing within their borders who are not citizens. That’s all the census asks. If people are afraid to give truthful answers there should be a concerted effort by the government (from both sides of the aisle) to educate them in terms of what are census is supposed to accomplish.

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As an enumerator for the 1990 census, I quickly learned that: (1) Nearly everyone knew they could easily lie or refuse to answer any question without repercussions. (2) In training, we were taught, as a last resort, to answer unanswered queries for them with our best guess. I don’t believe all the crap about immigrants and/or minorities FEARING the census & actually suggest that claim is racist, by intimating said groups are of low intelligence!

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The inclusion of the question on citizenship is perfectly legal and appropriate. It can properly be used to determine certain allocations of funds to various political entities. As such we taxpayers do not want an political entity benefiting because of illegal aliens’ being enumerated along with citizens.
IMO it would be more judicious to include both viewpoints in Eastman’s article but the article is Eastman’s to endorse whatever view he wishes.

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    —> but the article is Eastman’s to endorse whatever view he wishes.

    I have no view.

    I find it to be an interesting debate and I believe the outcome is important to all future genealogists. However, I have no opinion as to whether this is a good idea or a bad one.

    To be blunt, I find Washington politics to be very repetitious and quite boring.

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As a librarian, genealogy buff, and someone who regularly uses government data, I appreciate Ted’s response and find this topic to be extremely important for researchers. Ted’s comments were both factual and well-written. It’s a shame that those who can’t argue on the merits want to scream “fake news!” to try to shut down intelligent debate.

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    Jennifer’s comments were a pleasure to read. I sick of seeing “fake news” every time that someone doesn’t agree with what was said. I agree that the information would be nice to have but has everybody forgotten that the information about the people of Japanese descent was used to round up US citizens and put them in internment camps during WWII. The supreme court ruled that this was legal even though the census data was collected with the understanding that the individual data would not be shared. And no I am not old enough to remember this event but I have read about it. If I was an illegal immigrant I don’t think that I would answer information on the census.

    Liked by 2 people

According to the Census Bureau, there was a question about citizenship on every census from 1890 to 1950. It was also asked sporadically (only in certain areas or only on the long form)after that through 2000. Can anyone point to specific cases of abuse or discrimination that resulted from the census question during this period? To me, it is no different than the question about ownership of a radio in 1930 or many other questions during the years that painted a picture of our country at that juncture.
To assume because the census question is asked, the answer will be used in a nefarious way strikes me as biased and unnecessary. IThe concern strikes me as well-founded as debating what the proper rules for teleportation should be.

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The problem with the response is this one line:
<blockquote cite="but based on this administration’s disregard for the law"
This is what took a valid argument and turned it political, setting off warning bells in many of our heads. That line could be used to describe any number of administrations – and all of the ones in the last 20 years.

Also of issue is that there “was no distinction of legal and illegal”. While that might be technically true, there were laws to be followed, and there has been a distinction since 1888. 1790 was the year of the Naturalization Act where rules were set for citizenship. A law in 1819 required the reporting of all immigrants. My family came right after this and when they landed, they had to give their name and who their main contact was [so as to not become a burden on the state]. Many were not granted entry for health reasons. In 1864 immigration was centralized by the federal government. 1875 was the year of the first regulations on who could enter the country. In the years 1882, 1885 and 1888 regulations were passed that excluded certain groups of immigrants. The law about being able to speak English was passed in 1906. More exclusion regulations came in the years of 1907, 1917, 1921 [first year of numeric limits], 1924, 1929, 1943, 1946, 1948, 1950 and so on until this time.
So, yes, actually, many of our immigrant ancestors did come legally [if they arrived after 1888], and some/many of those who came before that followed the laws on the books and became citizens.
The problem this question on the census is raising has more to do with the lack of knowledge and education of the general public. People don’t know topics of history anymore. And many [some of my siblings included] get their news from social media and late night talk show hosts. Look at how many times a group of people have reacted to something that went ‘viral’ before ever getting the actual facts surrounding whatever the incident was.

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    I agree completely with this:
    The problem with the response is this one line:
    <blockquote cite="but based on this administration’s disregard for the law"
    Dick, even though you have no political view, you did provide a platform for a person who very obviously does have a political view.

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    —> Dick, even though you have no political view, you did provide a platform for a person who very obviously does have a political view.

    Yes. I have done the same thing multiple times before. I welcome all views. I hope that I can always present a platform that encourages a logical discussion of all viewpoints.

    However, when someone else’s views are published here, either in an article or in a comment to an article, that doesn’t mean that I personally agree or disagree with the stated view. All opinions are welcome here as long as they are presented in a logical and adult, non-inflammatory manner. I believe that offering such a platform to all views is mandatory when trying to present a balanced view of all sides to a discussion.

    If you look through the comments allowed to be posted here, you will see multiple views and opinions. I welcome the diversity.

    I can only repeat what I wrote earlier:

    “My goal is to write about all the significant current issues facing the genealogy community and to make people consider all aspects and then to decide for themselves what is the best course of action. I don’t care if anyone is in favor of or against the proposals. I only care that people think about it for themselves and make up their own minds.”

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    Thank you for the thoughtful response, Stacie. I appreciate your well-informed description of how immigration laws have changed, and your final comments about the widespread ignorance of history.
    I was aware that the statement you identified would be seen as politically charged. Unfortunately, it was necessary to make my point. If someone believes the government will not obey the law requiring individual census information to be secure, then that person will be less likely to provide accurate information to the census enumerator. Politics is part of life, and if the political climate determines how people behave, then it is relevant to this discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

the 1940 census had a question about citizenship. my dad was born in turkey of us citizen parents (my grandparents were both teachers). to the day she dies, my mother insisted that my dad had gotten his citizenship from being naturalized… yet he was on the us emergency exit passport with his mother when the family left turkey due to ww1.

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The question is a valid informational question. You do not have to be a citizen at this time to be a legal resident. Like any question what will be useful in 70 years is unknown but it will be of interest to future genealogists.

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I totally agree with Stacie and others. It is very disappointing that you Mr Eastman would promote such a biased, political response to this issue. This question has been asked on every annual census except for 2010 with no problems. Since 1960, it was asked on the long form for every census until Obama stopped it in 2010. This question continues to be asked on every Annual census. Those annual census don’t result in representation in congress for illegal aliens, as will the 2020 Census. However, knowing how many illegals are taking resources from Citizens and Legal Immigrants is of value on the annual census because they can get even more money and resources for this “special” group of people. Hypocrites.

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    —> It is very disappointing that you Mr Eastman would promote such a biased, political response to this issue.

    Please go back and read my comments agin. You will notice that I haven’t “promoted” any political viewpoint. I have reported the facts but not my own opinions.

    As I wrote earlier:

    “I have no view.

    “I find it to be an interesting debate and I believe the outcome is important to all future genealogists. However, I have no opinion as to whether this is a good idea or a bad one.

    “To be blunt, I find Washington politics to be very repetitious and quite boring.”

    My goal is to write about all the significant current issues facing the genealogy community and to make people consider all aspects and then to decide for themselves what is the best course of action. I don’t care if anyone is in favor of or against the proposals. I only care that people think about it for themselves and make up their own minds.

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um…hmmm…. besides the excellent dialogue shown in these responses, I’m like to add a couple of other points. I WORKED the 2010 census. It was poorly worded and politically a firebomb. Folks did not know how to answer the questions regarding “ethnicity” and rightly so. Wish I’d kept a copy because now you’re going to have to wait until the year 2082 to see it. Not only was the format difficult and the wording “loaded”, there was NO training to assist field workers in deciphering the issue for those filling out the form (these were folks who had not sent in the form by mail or their form was “lost”. Since I had the experience of using older census forms in research, I actually made a power point to show the folks in my unit but for most it was not enough.

The second point is just an elaboration: look back at the document format for the 1900 census and compare that to the earlier ones in 1850 and 1860…big difference…more information collect…no intent to “round up illegals”.

YES, this IS politically charged and YES, it is going to be a nightmare but this is not solvable unless the current “politics” can be removed from the process.

Liked by 1 person

I have used census records for many years. I think asking the immigration status is a reasonable question to ask. It was not a problem before.

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Sheila Altenbernd April 6, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Well written Dick.

RH The question was asked before, but the political landscape and reasons for asking were different.

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H Stuart Cunningham April 10, 2018 at 11:50 am

Ted Russell is correct in stating that the core purpose of the census is to orovide a count of all of the persons in the United States, regardless of whether they are here legally or otherwise. He is also probably correct that the question on citizenship will doubtless give some an incentive to avoid being counted and thus tend to undercount the population. However, there are a couple of his comments with which I take exception.
The first is his reference to “this administration’s disregard for the law.” That statement says more about Russell’s own political persuasion than anything else.
The second is that at one time there was not distinction between legal and illegal immigration. This is a less than candid description of the obvious fact that for the first century or so of the existence of the United States there were very few regulations regarding entry into the country. Citizenship itself was largely determined at the state level and conferred usually by state courts. It was only with the dramatic increase in immigration from southern and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century that immigration became enough of a political issue to give rise to immigration laws and an increased federal involvement in the citizenship process.
The final comment with which I take issue is Russell’s reference to “ignorance xenophobia.” Again, the statement is more a reflection of his own political preferences than a neutral assessment. I read Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” many decades ago. It was part of my undergraduate education. I am well aware of his arguments. As an adolescent I found them persuasive, aided no doubt by his very readable style. As a very senior citizen I am now more aware that the world is somewhat more complicated than the one Richard Hofstadter presented. As a result I view xenophobia in a far more nuanced way than did Hofstadter.
In closing I should point out that I am myself an immigrant, having arrived in the States as a twelve year old in the company of my parents, my younger sister, and the family dog. We followed two sisters of my mother (one a GI war bride) and my maternal grandparents. I was naturalized when I was 19, a decision aided to some degree by the fact that I had recently taken a job with the federal government. My sister finally became a citizen in her fifties. Neither my parents nor my grandparents became citizens. The two aunts were naturalized thirty or forty years after they arrived in the States. The different responses of myself and my seven relatives supports Russell’s observation that assimilation is a variable thing.

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    Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Stuart. Of course I have a political viewpoint – we all do. This is not about politics. My objections to the current administration are shared by many principled conservatives – people like William Kristol and Sen. Jeff Flake – with whom I agree on little in the area of policy, but whose basic decency I respect.

    My central point is that it is the widespread PERCEPTION that the administration is lawless that is likely to discourage participation in the census. I’ll illustrate with an example to show how one could easily fear that this administration is capable of almost anything to harass immigrants. Last month, ICE deported a two-tour US Army Afghanistan War veteran who suffered PTSD while serving the only country he has known since the age of 8, developed a drug habit, and has a 10-year-old felony conviction as a result. Here are articles from the Army Times and his hometown Chicago Tribune describing what I am talking about:
    https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2018/03/26/army-veteran-in-us-since-age-8-deported-after-prison-stint/
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-green-card-veteran-miguel-perez-mexico-20180326-story.html
    OK, this action was technical not lawless, but by any measure it was unfair and immoral. If anyone can read about this man and still think it’s OK, then you deserve the label of an ignorant xenophobe. If you are an immigrant and you read this, you are right to be fearful of this government.

    I appreciate your clarification of the chronology of immigration laws. You are right that the distinction between ‘legal’ vs. ‘illegal’ immigrants began before the huge immigration wave from 1880-1920. Of course, one major reaction to that wave was a restriction on immigration in the 1930s, motivated largely by animosity toward immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s know the ethnic epithets used by our classmates on each other that derive from that era. This is one of the periods of xenophobia that I mentioned, an earlier one being the “no Irish need apply” era in the mid-19th century, and the most recent one being the “Mexicans are rapists” era we are living through right now. Note how each wave is characterized by name-calling. How is that not ignorant xenophobia?

    I understand that issues can be more complex than upon first glance, but I would like to know why you find xenophobia to be more nuanced than you once did. To me, it is a symptom of humans as tribal animals who instinctively tend to classify a stranger as either one of “us” or one of “them”. The unique feature of the Enlightenment and modern liberal (with a small “l”) secular democracy is the resistance to this innate urge, recognizing that we will all be much better off when we see all humans as one of “us”, since we are collectively dependent on ALL of “us” for our survival.

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Thank you Ted Russell for a thoughtful statement.

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