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The census of President Trump is not the first time that it is controversial: NPR

People gather in the US Supreme Court last month to make decisions, including on the census.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

People gather in the US Supreme Court last month to make decisions, including on the census.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Day in and day out, you can see stories from the 2020 census on the front page and in all the news, even though the last decade is still a long way off.

The Chair wants the census questionnaire to include: "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" He is willing to delay the count "as long as it will be necessary" for everything to go as planned.

But Census Bureau officials believe that such a question would cool cooperation, eliminate counting by millions and distort the relative population of states. They say count all The people present in the country are the mission of the census since its invention in the Constitution.

States brought a lawsuit to block the citizenship issue, and in June the US Supreme Court ruled that citizenship could only be added with proper justification. Chief Justice John Roberts stated that the rationale provided by the administration – to help enforce the law on the right to vote – was not supported by evidence. "Contrived" was the term he used.

So now we have a court battle and a cacophonous fight over racism and the rule of law. And you can practically hear the Americans ask: When did the census become so political?

And the answer to this the question is: from the beginning.

The very idea of ​​the census was originally to decide how many seats each state would get in Congress. Each state would get two seats in the Senate, the seats in the House of Representatives being determined by population.

As the system has evolved, states have also designated districts so that members of the House represent the different parts of each state. State legislatures have been similarly distributed and mapped.

These vital functions of the democratic system were triggered by each new census with remarkable regularity since 1790 – with one exception.

The particular case of the 1920 census

Just a century ago, the 1920 census came in and Congress chose to ignore it. The reasons were as political as possible, and it was all about immigration and the rise of cities – tensions that also persist in the current census crisis.

The problem was that the 1920 census had definitely proved that America had become an urban country – and more than ever a country of immigrants. Less than half of the US population still lived in farms, rural areas or towns with less than 2,500 inhabitants.

In just over a generation, jobs, commerce and culture have attracted millions of people to America's metropolitan cities and regions. Many came from the countryside, many other countries – and both movements posed problems for the settlement in Washington.

The Congress of the early 1920s was still dominated by elected members of the rural districts, reflecting the economic and political data of the previous century. These included rural Southern Democrats, but Republicans dominated rural areas everywhere and enjoyed a clear majority in both Houses of Congress.

Holders of both parties knew that a reclassification would cost some of their states seats. Beyond this, the subsequent redefinition of districts would force individual members to compete in a game of musical chairs.

In addition, the new seats to be created would be centered in metropolitan areas where citizens would vote for someone to whom they belong.

So these holders attacked the census as being inaccurate, and insane to the rural soul of the nation as they knew it. Thomas Jefferson's agrarian worldview was still a religion for much of Congress. (Jefferson once wrote that "big city crowds add as much support to pure government as injury to the strength of the human body").

The contribution of immigrants to this growth was just as evident as the growth of cities. The percentage of US-born residents in the United States had reached a record high (13.5%) in the decade prior to 1920, and it was concentrated in industrial metros in the Northeast and Great Lakes.

Republicans in Congress regarded the arrival of immigrants as a direct threat. A Kansas member had a table suggesting that the count of non-citizens nationwide had an impact on the number of seats allocated to 16 states. He proposed a constitutional amendment to prevent the census from counting anyone who had not become a naturalized citizen. Members from Kentucky and Tennessee have said they want to do the same.

In response, Republican congressional leaders simply blocked the redistribution bill that would normally be passed after the census. And they blocked it throughout the next four congressional congressional cycles. It was not until 1929 that a redistribution law was finally passed, even though the 1930 census was in preparation.

Roots of contemporary controversy

The original Constitution (Article I, Section 2) provided for a 65-seat chamber, allocated to States according to their approximate relative population. So, Virginia would have 10 people, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts eight each, and so on up to Delaware and Rhode Island with one each.

But the initial ratio was only a starting point. The Constitution set up an "effective census" of the inhabitants and the first enumerators came on horseback in 1790.

All of the other uses of the census that we know today, from the distribution of federal program funds to multiple commercial and academic goals, came later. And they were all accessories to the original idea of ​​popular representation, essential tool of a democratic republic.

The ensuing census and seat distribution was a mechanism that also recognized the fact that the new nation was not a unit, but a union of formerly sovereign states. It was a contract between several distinct entities that insisted on their own rights and identities.

Given these origins, census and redistribution are inevitably controversial. The participants in the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 discussed at length how to count slaves, an issue that almost caused the collapse of the company.

In the end, the convention adopted the "three-fifths compromise" according to which slaves would be counted in the census but only as three fifths of a person. This compromise may seem shocking today. But in America from 1787, the agreement is reached. And it persisted until the civil war brought on the 13thth and 14th Amendments and terms of reference to "count the total number of persons in each State".

In the 20th Century, the census was a hot potato for other reasons. It figured in the measure of unemployment during the Great Depression. He played a role in efforts to redraw the congressional districts within states during the Civil Rights Movement.

Before and after the 2000 census, increased attention was paid to the underreporting of certain groups – particularly newcomers and people of color. Efforts to complete the census enumeration by statistical sampling and other contemporary social science techniques have been met with stiff resistance by Republicans in Congress.

More recently, questions have been raised about Census Bureau definitions of terms such as "marriage" and "family" as well as sex determination.

And now under the Trump administration, the census has ended up focusing on the issue of immigration.

Many of the tensions of the 1920 census persist today.

The rural-urban tension and the immigration pressure of 1920 are palpable in the conflicts of the next census.

The distinction between the voting patterns of metro residents and non-residents of the metro is striking. Exit polls in 2016 showed that Trump received 62% of votes in rural areas, but only 35% in urban areas. A national survey by Selzer & Co. for Grinnell College in December found corroborating evidence: Trump had 61% approval in rural areas and only 31% in urban areas (suburbs and small towns in the US). quarantine).

But the major problem of the census nowadays is that of immigration, as pointed out by the president himself. Trump appeared for the first time among Republican candidates in 2015, highlighting his support for a border wall with Mexico and a "total and complete blockage of Muslims entering the United States until we know what happens."

Frustrated until here in his efforts to build this wall or to revamp the law of immigration more generally, the president sought other ways to force the problem. This is particularly the case of the DACA program (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals) for the benefit of persons illegally brought into the United States as minors.

The policy of separating families of asylum seekers from the Mexican border and the controversies over detention conditions in child detention camps have been particularly visible in recent days.

Given the negative public reaction to these two initiatives, the Speaker may feel a greater acceptance of his citizenship question in the census. And if the courts refuse to answer the question, the president can certainly grieve it on which to campaign in 2020.

This post was posted on July 9, 2019.

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