The census is used to distribute nearly $1 trillion in government programs, to apportion political power, and to divide the country into racial blocs. Is it any wonder why the organized left is so interested in the census that it took the Trump administration to court over it? A coalition of ethnic based liberal organizations won a big court victory in last month when Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York ruled in their favor that a question on citizenship cannot be asked in the 2020 decennial census.
The battle, however, is not over. The Trump administration late last month took the unusual step of going directly to the Supreme Court to review the decision. Here is hoping it does, and that it overturns the decision. The judge agreed with the organizations that asking about citizenship would reduce the count of the group the census designates as hispanics, though the evidence on that is slim. We must also stop the rising use of national injunctions by district courts. As Justice Clarence Thomas once said, “If their popularity continues, this court must address their legality.”
Much more importantly, the district court ruling ratifies a trend in society toward ethnic based victimization claims and away from patriotic solidarity. In the opinion, the judge found that the census can inquire into the age, sex, race, and ethnicity of the resident, but not into the one thing that colorblind government should care about, which is who is a member of the polity and who is not. The judge expressed adulation for the four organizations that sued the federal government, calling the plaintiffs “deeply committed to a laudable mission of increasing political participation, promoting civic engagement, and advancing the interests of immigrant communities, especially immigrant communities of color.”
The supposed undercount of “particularly noncitizens and hispanics” who would be “less likely to participate in the census for fear that the data could be used against them and their loved ones,” would thus “translate into a loss of political power and funds, among other harms, for various plaintiffs.” Leave aside the irony that the Census Bureau itself pretty much created the “hispanic” collectivity when it included it for the first time in the 1980 census. It now appears that the victimhood ideology that the government was contributing to igniting then is now being used to fill the coffers of the liberal organizations that have long been its beneficiaries.
When activists were trying to create an official hispanic bloc in the 1970s, they had a definitional problem of what to base it on. Was it surnames? Race? Ability to speak Spanish? None were of these sufficient. Congress, though, had an answer. It was victimhood and its twin sister grievances. Public Law 94-311, the only statute in our history to define an ethnicity, held back in 1976 that a “large number of Americans of Spanish origin or descent suffer from racial, social, economic, and political discrimination." The goal of this law was “to implement an affirmative action program.”
The process redrew the imaginary borders of mutual loyalty. Up until the 1960s, the main Mexican American organizations saw themselves as part of the entire nation, and felt “pride in the United States” in the words of the University of California researchers at the time. Only citizens could be members. Thereafter, a coterie of new organizations included some other people inside the circle of trust, such as legal immigrants who refused to naturalize, illegal ones who could not, and guest workers. As the historian Mario Garcia put it clearly, the new organizations “called for ethnic unity transcending citizenship.” The slogan became “todo por la raza,” meaning “everything for the race.” The term “hispanic” was then added to the mix.
The new groups now vie to take as much as possible of the more than $800 billion in funding that the federal government allocates every year based on census data. The organized left of the plaintiffs in the case are heirs of this new tradition. The four plaintiffs are the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, Casa de Maryland, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee along with its research institute. Influence Watch has done a great job looking into these organizations.
Take Make the Road New York. It has strong ties to groups that promote immigration expansion, labor union issues, and liberal causes, and to Mayor Bill de Blasio and other far left New York personalities. Government grants make up nearly 40 percent of its revenue. Consider the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, founded by former Senator James Abourezk and liberal activist James Zogby, who now heads the Sanders Institute that was created by Senator Bernie Sanders. The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee also formed a partnership with the Council of American Islamic Relations, an anti-Israel group, several years ago.
Then there is Casa de Maryland, which organizes political demonstrations, including against the immigration policies proposed by President Trump. Its executive director worked for a Sandinista paper in Nicaragua and years ago attended a conference in Venezuela where the main event was a panel discussion on a possible revolution in the United States, according to data from Influence Watch. The Venezuelan state oil company Citgo Petroleum also donated $1.5 million to Casa de Maryland back in 2008.
Ultimately it is up to the Supreme Court whether to overturn this ruling, and with it perhaps the divisive census trend of the past half century.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 2/5/19