Trump’s Census Bureau Puts Immigrants in Government Crosshairs

January 15, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


On December 12, 2017, the Department of “Justice” (DOJ) quietly sent a memo to the U.S. Census Bureau formally requesting that it include a “question regarding citizenship” on the 2020 census.

Sinister motives underlie the dry bureaucratic language of the DOJ letter. Information collected in the census could be used to serve roundups of millions of people, both documented and undocumented, if the fascist Trump/Pence regime feels compelled to move in that direction.

An Ugly Historical Precedent

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the federal government conduct a national census every 10 years. As its website says, the Census Bureau is directed to “count every person living in the ... United States of America.” Note—every person, not every citizen. The census is then used to shape representation in Congress, which is determined on the basis of total population, and for allocation of billions of dollars in federal funds to local districts over the next decade. Questions asked on the census must be submitted two years in advance, and the deadline for the 2020 census is April 2018.

The Commerce Department is legally responsible for the census. It is highly unusual for the DOJ—which oversees the FBI and federal law enforcement in general—to submit census questions for consideration. Questions about citizenship haven’t been used in census questionnaires since 1950—but they do have an ominous precedent. When the U.S. went to war against Japan in World War 2, it used census data as part of gathering information for its roundup of about 120,000 people of Japanese descent, who were then forced into concentration camps. (See this article in Revolution’s American Crime series for more on the U.S. internment, or imprisonment, of Japanese people, both citizens and legal residents.) Sixty-two percent of the people imprisoned were U.S. citizens, almost all were legal residents, and about half were children.

The U.S. lied about this atrocity for over 60 years. Scientific American reported in 2007 that “Despite decades of denials, government records confirm that the U.S. Census Bureau provided the U.S. Secret Service with names and addresses of Japanese-Americans during World War II.” A professor who wrote the report cited by Scientific American said the bureau provided “microdata”—the addresses, names, relatives, citizenship and immigration status—to the FBI and other government agencies who carried out the arrests.

Since 1910, personal information collected by the Census Bureau has supposedly been confidential. But in 1941 Congress repealed the confidentiality provisions of census law to allow massive spying on Japanese people. Rounding up and internment of Japanese people was ordered by Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and upheld in an infamous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The fascists in the Trump/Pence regime, the fascist judges it is packing into federal courts, and the Republi-fascists who dominate Congress could move to mount truly massive and horrific attacks on people they label and consider “alien” once again, with the information provided to the DOJ. Only this time it would be millions of people whose immigration status—along with addresses, names, employment and school records, family, medical and other information—would be in the hands of people like Trump, the white supremacist attorney general Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and the FBI.

DOJ Targets “Racial Discrimination”—Against White People

Last summer, Steven King, a rabid Christian fascist from Iowa, proposed a law in Congress that the census question people “regarding whether they are citizens, aliens who are in the country lawfully, or aliens in the country illegally.” King and other fascists have argued that it is necessary “to count separately the citizens separate from the non-citizens, the lawfully present Americans separate from the illegal aliens that are here so that America can see how bad this [immigration] is.”

How including questions about citizenship morphed from a proposed law to a quietly vicious move within the Trump/Pence regime is unclear. But a few months after King’s proposal the DOJ sent its letter to the Census Bureau.

With an arrogance that is brazen even for the white supremacists of the Trump/Pence regime, the DOJ cites the Voting Rights Act of 1965—one of the major pieces of legislation of the civil rights era of the 1950s and ’60s—to justify their intended interrogation of citizenship status. That law’s principle aim was to overcome longstanding and deeply engrained laws and measures that prevented Black people from voting, especially in Southern states.

The DOJ letter said information about citizenship “... is critical to the Department’s enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting. To fully enforce those requirements, the Department needs a reliable calculation of the citizen voting-age population in localities where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected.”

Who are the people the DOJ has determined need protection against “racial discrimination in voting”? Overwhelmingly and primarily, they are white people!

This bullshit turns reality on its head. The U.S. has a long history of vicious oppression, persecution and exploitation of immigrants, including immigrants from Mexico and Central America. The Trump/Pence regime has qualitatively intensified this repression, and is laying the groundwork for even greater atrocities. A measure like the one being pushed by the DOJ would put a bull’s eye on the backs of undocumented immigrants especially, but it targets all immigrants. Many families have members with different legal status—this DOJ measure would be aimed, in part, at requiring people who have legal status and respond to the census to indicate that they have family who are not legal.

Relentless attacks on immigrants are a cornerstone element of the fascism of the Trump/Pence regime. It has taken flagrant, open forms—like the border wall, the steady stream of racist insults, the ending of protected status for hundreds of thousands of Haitians, Salvadorans and others. It has also taken less obvious and publicized measures to advance a fascist agenda of severe repression. All the mounting attacks on immigrants must be met with massive opposition from all sections of the people, and the fascist regime behind them must be removed from power.


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