Ordering census takers to ask people their citizenship status fits the mutual agenda of President Donald Trump and most congressional Republicans.
If critics of the change are correct, the new question would work to suppress the count of individuals in communities with many immigrants.
Taxpayer resources can then shift from blue states to red when budget allocations are based on official population figures.
The same power shift emerged in the recent tax-law reform. New restrictions on state and local tax deductions effectively will reduce federal support for municipal services in higher-tax blue states like New York.
Undercounting immigrants also could shift geographic power by allowing the number of congressional seats and Electoral College members to change.
Presumably, areas with Republican majorities again would benefit. Most states with the largest concentrations of immigrants have Democratic majorities. Texas is an exception.
Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary, essentially overruled career officials at the Census Bureau to make the change.
“Neither the Census Bureau nor the concerned stakeholders could document that the response rate would in fact decline materially,” Ross wrote in a memo.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, is among the many who insist it will.
“Undercounting noncitizens and their citizen relatives,” he said, “will imperil the state’s fair share of congressional seats and Electoral College electors and will cost the state billions of dollars in federal funding over the next decade.”
New York State’s Democratic attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, echoes those claims. He’s leading a multistate lawsuit, aimed at blocking the change, that California and at least 10 other states support.
Costing New York and California even a relatively modest amount of money and clout would of course be just fine with GOP operatives in the middle of the country.
Playing to their base, Republicans may even see political advantage in the furor that the new citizenship question provokes.
As with Trump’s elimination of the DACA program, they get to brand the Democrats who object as siding with the interests of noncitizens, and by extension, with illegal immigration.
John Gore, a Justice Department lawyer, drafted the original letter to the Census Bureau urging the citizenship change, according to emails cited by ProPublica.
As a lawyer in private practice, Gore defended Republican redistricting plans that opponents attacked as gerrymandered.