by Rep. Vicente Gonzalez
After years of “taxation without representation,” a group of like-minded individuals – now known as our founders – said “enough is enough.” Out of this, a new nation – a representative democracy – was born.
This nation was founded on the premise that all people are created equal and should be granted the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Last week, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that the Department of Commerce, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, would reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire. This type of question has not been included for over fifty years. How does this coincide with our commitment to equal representation?
Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution requires a census every ten years. Our founding document requires that the federal government count every resident within its boundaries, citizen or not.
The purpose: to ensure that every community is properly represented and receives the federal funding it needs to serve its population.
When areas are not accurately surveyed, federal funding and the right to equal representation are threatened. Adding a citizenship question will further discourage minority and immigrant participation, especially in areas where there is a consistent pattern of undercounting, large immigrant populations, and low response rates. Hidalgo County, Texas, which I have the privilege of serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, meets these criteria.
In the past, the census has inaccurately surveyed the population of Hidalgo County – causing a domino effect over many decades of undercounting and underfunding communities in South Texas.
For months, I have been working with the U.S. Census Bureau and local stakeholders to secure the infrastructure, manpower and support that South Texas needs to conduct an accurate and efficient census in 2020. The Bureau agreed to open a new Area Census Office in McAllen, Texas, in 2019 that will serve Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. This was a step forward.
Last week, the Department of Commerce took a step backward that can only be described with a new mantra: ‘no representation without documentation.’
Many are unaware that Title 13 of the U.S. Code guarantees the privacy of all responses to the Census and even prohibits information from being shared with immigration enforcement or law enforcement agencies. This would protect answers to a citizenship question, and it is my duty as the congressman for the area to educate people about the protections afforded to them through this federal statute. However, since this is not widely known, and given the current political climate, individuals in the 15th District of Texas and across the country are likely to be concerned.
For the communities that I represent, including a citizenship question compounds the existing obstacles that stand in the way of a successful and accurate census. This puts our federal resources and representation in jeopardy. Our South Texas region is growing rapidly, and we can no longer afford to be undercounted.
The departments of Justice and Commerce have argued this action will help prevent voter fraud in an effort to ratify their decision. I agree that we should be taking steps to protect voting rights, prevent fraud and protect the integrity of the democratic process, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not damage other institutions or processes that are part of the very foundation of this country.
It is clear that a question that has not been included in the census for over five decades will have no bearing on hindering voter fraud.
I implore the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Commerce, and President Donald J. Trump not to become a nation that adheres to “no representation without documentation.” I ask that the administration recognize the error in their ways and remove this question from the upcoming census so that South Texas, and communities across the country, are afforded the appropriate representation and federal funding they deserve.
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez represents the 15th District of Texas.