The Census Question

Canada, by the way, does ask about citizenship on the Census. That doesn’t prevent it from being aggressively pro-immigration.

We are being fed a bunch of lies and we swallow them unthinkingly. “Only Nazis ask about citizenship on the census!” No, pretty much everyone does. And it’s all very reasonable and utterly uncontroversial. It only becomes controversial when you bring in an enormous illegal underclass that you want to exploit and socialize the costs. It’s harder to socialize the costs if voters find out how large it is. So you don’t let them find out. And invent a ridiculous story about how the number magically remains unchanged since 2004.

34 thoughts on “The Census Question”

  1. Don’t you think American consumers benefit from exploiting this illegal underclass as well? The fruits from California I buy at the supermarket were probably picked by someone making way below minimum wage per hour. Most of the meat we buy in stores probably comes from animals who were effectively tortured for their entire lives at factory farms, and then killed by the illegal immigrants working there. I used to get takeout from a pizza place near my old apartment that later closed over a dispute about unpaid wages made by illegal immigrants working in the kitchen. This is in the Greater Boston Area, by the way.

    I think it ties into consumerism and the “I want it, for cheap and right now” mentality that you talk about. In order for things to change, something would need to give – either the consumers would need to pay more, or the rich in charge would need to agree to take a smaller cut of the profit, or both. I don’t see any of this happening. Do you?

    I changed my landscaping companies a few years ago. I’m quite certain the previous one employed illegal immigrants. The current one doesn’t – they’re all white kids from Massachusetts. I pay them double what I paid the previous company, and yes, I do feel virtuous about it.

    I don’t disagree with anything you say above, by the way.


    1. That’s absolutely true, MT. People gain a lot from this but they don’t want to recognize that and instead hide behind falsely pious proclamations. There is little that I hate more than hypocrisy, so I get angry.


      1. But why is agreeing to socialize the costs falsely pious? If I’m aware of how I benefit from the exploitation of illegal immigrants and am therefore willing to pay higher taxes to provide them with healthcare, doesn’t that make sense?

        Yes, the right solution is to reform the immigration system and pay all working people a living wage. When there’s a chance of that happening, I will vote for it (by that time I should be able to). The costs of that will also be socialized.

        I recently visited a friend in Switzerland. They have real, small family farms, where animals are not tortured, and the meat and eggs taste better because the animals are not stuffed full of hormones and fed food they don’t eat in nature. Farmers can actually make a living. As you know, Switzerland is notoriously expensive. They pay more in taxes than we do, live in smaller apartments/houses that they pay more for, and so on.

        There is no way for the US as a country to maintain its current lifestyle and change anything about the situation with illegal immigrants. And that’s why most likely nothing will change.


        1. If people honestly said, “hey, I don’t mind that these people are exploited as long as I gain from it economically,” I’d disagree but I’d respect their position. But nobody is saying this. To the contrary, people present themselves as some sort of humanitarian heroes when they are the exact opposite. And I can’t stand that.


  2. The US was conceptualized differently from other countries. You didn’t have a national identity card. Non citizens could run for local office. Citizenship was easy to get and yes, you could just show up, no visa, and arrange things then. This was the idea. So legislative districts were created based on the number of total people, not the number of citizens only. Slaves were not citizens and as slaves were only 3/5 of a person and we criticize that but note that they still got counted.

    The citizenship question is asking people to give themselves up. Earlier on there wasn’t so much “inter-agency cooperation” and there was a reason for that — jurisdictions and powers were meant to be limited. Especially now, with undocumented status being criminalized, it’s a question you may not want to ask unless you want people to hide from the census. (Maybe you do.)

    Being a person first, being recognized as a person, used to be at least an aspirational goal in US. You’d go to Europe or Lat. Am. and everyone was having to show papers all the time, prove they were authorized all the time; each person had one number and it was in the national database; you registered your address with the police; etc.

    These notes aren’t a complete argument but my general point is: sure, at a superficial level, what is your citizenship status is a reasonable question. But there are a lot of layers, implications, etc. that complicate this “common sense.”


    1. ” You didn’t have a national identity card

      That sounds more like a British hangup, and while yes, there still is no national ID (AFAIK) it’s very hard to get lots of things done without a state ID (drivers license and in some (most? all?) states the DMV issues IDs for non-drivers too).

      “Citizenship was easy to get and yes, you could just show up, no visa, and arrange things then”

      That hasn’t been true for a very long time though it still might be part of the national mythology.

      My own opinion is that the PTB don’t want a question about people’s citizenship/migration status because the public would go apeshit if the real numbers of undocumented workers were known… it could easily cause the kind of discontent that leads to the fall of governments (and systems of government).

      At present, migration to the US seems to be about 90% based on grifts and cons of various kinds (not on the part of the migrants themselves though not absent there either).


      1. N just met somebody from Russia who’s applying for political asylum here. The claim is obviously false, and the guy is very open (with us, not with the immigration services) that it’s false. After he successfully games the system once, what are the chances he’ll stop trying to game it?


      2. So the trumpista fantasy is: people find out that there are many more undocumented immigrants than they thought, take to the streets and demand dictatorship and mass deportations???


        1. Let’s not be naive here. Trump dropped the Census question issue just like he dropped everything else that could have changed the disgraceful, ridiculous system in place since the 1990s.

          It’s us against rich people. And we are all getting equally fleeced and duped. Some of us are duped by the rich Trump while others are duped by the rich Kamala-Biden-Buttigieg, and so on. And they just keep getting richer as we claw each other’s eyes out and accept the feelings of being more moral than our equally duped neighbors as our only reward.


              1. I really wouldn’t put Trump in the same category as conservatives like Kamala Harris or the Clintons.


              2. To me, the defining criterion is always social class. The very rich are motivated by the need to fleece us. They are not on our side because they have no capacity to be.


          1. “It’s us against rich people.”

            What exactly is wrong with being rich and successful??

            And Buttigieg isn’t rich, anyway. He’s only worth a measly $110,000 or so.


            1. These people have already turned your state into a place that elects crazies like Sinema, but go ahead, keep thinking they are on your side.

              By these people I mean the elites I keep trying to talk about while everybody else is pretending not to understand.


              1. “keep thinking they are on your side.”

                Hey, Sinema is a hottie with nice legs, and Trump’s tax cut saved me about $30,000 last year.

                The Republicans have been very good to my bottom line. It’s the Democrats who want to raise my taxes substantially in return for new medical coverage that couldn’t possibly be better than the free total medical care that I’m already guaranteed for the rest of my life as a retired military officer on Medicare.

                Believe me, I know which party is on my side!


              2. I don’t see much difference between economic libertarianism (that defines today’s Republicans) and the social libertarianism (that defines the left). Both strains always lead to the exact same place, and it’s not a good one.


              3. People like Kamala Harris aren’t the “very rich” — those are other people, worth much more.

                U.S. doesn’t really have a left but there is a great difference between climate denialism and willingness to put the planet first, closing the camps and expanding them, keeping public schools or turning them all into charters, etc.


              4. These differences are rhetorical. They have no substance because they are about posturing as more moral. One side wails about “millions of babies murdered by abortion” while the other one wails about “babies in cages.”

                I’d so much rather both got together and started screaming to the skies about the bastards living in mansions who pit us against each other by promises of moral redemption.


        2. “people find out that there are many more undocumented immigrants than they thought, take to the streets and demand dictatorship and mass deportations”

          I wouldn’t put it that simply… but a great benefit of living in a post-communist country is that you begin to realize just how fragile political systems (even the most stable seeming) are and how an old order can be swept away and replaced with something very different in a short period of time.
          If it were clear to a majority of citizens that the government had been systematically lying to them about the number of undocumented migrants in the country…. it would chip away at a very big part of the order keeping the country (barely) together.
          I have no idea where that would lead, but it would not be a small thing (which is why both parties work together to keep real numbers a matter of guesswork)


          1. I grew up in the USSR, so I have a very intense reaction to the government suppressing or manipulating statistics. It isn’t even about the specific issue – although it’s an important issue – it’s about so much more. You are Americans, you are supposed to want to know. You are supposed to be angry about this. It’s supposed to be about principles, not personalities. In the third world we are about personalities, and we can all see how well that’s working out.


            1. I find this all so maddening. Americans have a really good deal here. A true oasis. With women’s soccer teams, clean streets, free art lessons for kids, and the kind of people who line up for the bus instead of ramming through everybody in their way. Compared to most of the world (and not to paradise), it’s pretty frigging amazing. But instead of cherishing the winning ticket you’ve got from life, you guys are pissing it away. It’s truly the dumbest thing.


              1. US does have those things for some people. I am impressed at how much of this there is in the Midwest, and aware of how much of it was built by 19th century socialists forced to flee Europe!
                But these are minority views here, especially now; a large portion of the population would prefer there not be any free public services, open to all; very many feel the Constitution is too left wing, and have settler-colonialist and not democratic values. This is regrettable, yet nonetheless true. US used to have a lot more of the things you’ve just said you liked, but US people themselves decided they didn’t like these things any more so have been dismantling them from late 70s forward.

                Re class, how I should get together with, say, the NRA and the Xian Right and fight the rich — uh, I guess I would cite Gramsci here and even intersectionality. Laclau and Mouffe, who I’ve often thought were just describing liberal democracy as it used to work here.


              2. This isn’t about state services. We had state services up the wazoo in Ukraine. We have an enormous public transportation system in Ukraine, for instance. And that’s great. But nobody waits in line at the stop. Nobody proceeds to get inside in an orderly, polite way. Everybody is mean and angry. Everybody is pushing, insulting, jostling and hitting. Everybody cheats on ticketing.

                It’s about how people feel towards each other. The teacher at the art lesson didn’t yell at anybody or humiliate the kids. Nobody in the street has told me I’m fat, ugly or badly dressed for 21 years. Exactly since I left. I do hear it whenever I hang out with anybody from my immigrant community, though. I can walk down the street without being constantly grabbed or harassed. Nobody offers me any bribes at work. Nobody solicits bribes. Everybody I know is a fantastic parent. Nobody beats or humiliates their kids. Back in Ukraine it would be 100% of people.

                That’s the main difference. And that’s the really precious thing.

                Liked by 1 person

            2. My strong bet is that the data generated by Pew, and other super reputable research institutions on this, is pretty accurate. I know the lunatic right, and Trump, hope not.


              1. What’s the problem with finding out for sure then? Canada is doing it. Ireland, Germany, Australia, Mexico, etc etc are all doing it. And immigrants are clearly better off in Canada. So what’s the problem with finding out for sure?

                As for what Trump hopes, you are confusing what he says with what he does. The guy is willing to lose the election to make sure there are more immigrants than ever. Look at what he does, look at his appointees, look at the outsize role of libertarian fanatics like Jared Kushner, look at the immigration proposals he actually signs. He’s more pro-open borders than Obama. Forget the slogans and look at the results. He’s sacrificing an almost guaranteed second term for this. The anti-immigration Trump is as much of a fiction as the Trump who’s a friend of the little guy.


              2. You think the census bureau is more competent and can get a better figure?

                If that is true of the T man why is it SO important, why would he crucify self for such?


              3. Because of what I’ve been saying this whole thread. He’s rich. That always comes before everything else. Rich people have a deep affinity for neoliberalism because it makes them rich.


          2. Oh – I know some people, including Trump, claim the Pew center and other professionally made estimates are low, but really, he’s the one who lacks credibility. Country is used to government lying, this is not what would send them to the barricades — which we’re far from getting to. T administration and all of them since 2001 have really worked at dismantling government as we knew it and there has been a lot else preparing that since late 70s, so yes, US could “overnight” turn into 3d world, authoritarian, etc. country (and I’ll point out I saw it coming for decades) – but it won’t be because govt. quotes low figures on immigration and people rise up outraged at dishonesty [unless that turns out to be some sort of spin that is put on whatever happens, but this is another matter].

            Total: I wouldn’t worry.


  3. I’m picking up on a different facet of this thread. There is quite a bit of information the US government doesn’t publish. One of the most interesting to me is the number of US citizens who no longer reside in the US. We’ve had a steady exodus from the US over the last several decades. The government claims that it doesn’t know how many US civilians live outside the country as permanent residents, although the IRS has some idea, for sure. Private estimates run between 3% and 10% of the population., with huge and growing enclaves in UK, Mexico, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.


  4. From last year
    …Census officials said the question is being reinstated for the first time since 1950 to help enforce the Voting Rights Act and that there are safeguards in place to prevent any abuse of the information. It is illegal to release information that would identify individuals or families….
    But that does not mean that census data has not been used to target specific populations in the past.

    In fact, information from the 1940 Census was secretly used in one of the worst violations of constitutional rights in U.S. history: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

    In papers presented in 2000 and 2007, historian Margo J. Anderson of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and statistician William Seltzer of Fordham University found evidence that census officials cooperated with the government, providing data to target Japanese Americans.

    The Japanese American community had long suspected the Census Bureau of playing a role in the push to banish 120,000 Japanese Americans, mostly living on the West Coast, into nearly a dozen internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, according to former commerce secretary Norman Mineta.

    Mineta, who lived in San Jose, was 11 when he and his family were sent to live in an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyo.

    For decades, though, census officials denied that they had played any role in providing information.

    According to Anderson and Seltzer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and military intelligence agencies began pushing in late 1939 to relax census confidentiality rules in the hope of accessing data on individuals. But the effort was opposed by Census Bureau Director William Lane Austin.

    After the 1940 presidential election, however, Austin was forced to retire. He was replaced by J.C. Capt, who backed efforts to remove confidentiality provisions. Capt’s efforts helped clear the way for other agencies to access the information on Japanese Americans.
    In 2000, Anderson and Seltzer found documents that showed officials with the Census Bureau had provided block-level information of where those of Japanese ancestry were living in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Arkansas.

    The revelations prompted Kenneth Prewitt, then director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to issue a public apology. Prewitt wrote: “The historical record is clear that senior Census Bureau staff proactively cooperated with the internment, and that census tabulations were directly implicated in the denial of civil rights to citizens of the United States who happened also to be of Japanese ancestry.”
    Anderson and Seltzer, however, weren’t finished. They suspected that despite the bureau’s denials, it had also released “microdata” — information about individuals, including names and addresses.

    In 2007, they found proof, uncovering documents that showed Census Bureau officials provided names and addresses of individuals of Japanese ancestry in Washington, D.C.
    While the Census Bureau had no such record, the pair found the information in records kept by the chief clerk of the Commerce Department. Under the Second War Powers Act, which suspended the confidentiality protections for census data, the chief clerk had the authority to release census data to other agencies. That meant while the information released was not illegal, it was ethically questionable, the researchers said.

    The August 4, 1943, request was made by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. He had asked for the names and addresses of all individuals of Japanese ancestry living in Washington. Morgenthau had requested the information to aid in a Secret Service investigation of threats made against President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    The request was triggered by an incident that had taken place 17 months earlier, when a Japanese American man traveling from Los Angeles to the Manzanar internment camp allegedly said that “we ought to have enough guts to kill Roosevelt.” The man was later committed to a mental hospital for schizophrenia.
    In all, information about 79 people in Washington was released, the researchers found. The records did not indicate that personal information was released on Japanese Americans living in other parts of the United States.

    The request was filled within seven days — remarkably quick for a government bureaucracy, researchers said at the time.

    “It leads us to believe this was a well-established path,” Seltzer told Scientific American in 2007. Starting in March 1942, standard confidentiality protections were suspended under the Second War Powers Act. Confidentiality provisions tied to census data were reinstated in 1947….Even so, that is not enough assurance for some, who cite a series of statements made by the Trump administration.

    “Just the nature of this administration makes people that much more wary about what they might be asking about,” said Mineta, the former commerce secretary. “I don’t think there’s much confidence in the ability of this administration to have any credibility in terms of protecting privacy issues. For them that’s just a fishing license. It’s ‘I’m the government, and I should be able to go anywhere.’ …


    1. When Bill Clinton was president, this question was on the census, and no interment camps ensued. It’s asked in Canada today, and no interment camps ensue. Why are we discussing 1940 when there are so many recent and current examples?


      1. When Bill Clinton was president, this question was on the census
        No, it wasn’t on the decennial census when Bill Clinton was President and it wasn’t ten years ago, either. The decennial census attempts to contact every US household. Now it was on the American Community survey or the long form survey which only goes out to a sample of the population.

        A citizenship question was asked in each decennial census of the total population from 1890 to 1950. (The 1820, 1830 and 1870 census questionnaires also included some form of a question about citizenship.) Until 1920, it was only asked of adult men; women and children automatically had the same citizenship status as their husbands or fathers. The question was not asked in the 1960 census. Since then, the citizenship question has been asked of only a sample of households, either on the census long form or the American Community Survey, which replaced it in 2010.

        I simply don’t have the same fears as someone of questionable legal status or someone from a group who has been interned in the past. There are people who are alive right now who have been interned or it’s within living memory, maybe that’s why it comes up?


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