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Common sense on census citizenship question: Lou Barletta

Posted 4/10/18

Pennsylvanians sent me to Washington to fix the problems facing our communities. One problem I have firsthand experience with is illegal immigration.

While mayor of Hazleton, I saw the …

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Common sense on census citizenship question: Lou Barletta


Pennsylvanians sent me to Washington to fix the problems facing our communities. One problem I have firsthand experience with is illegal immigration.

While mayor of Hazleton, I saw the devastating impact illegal immigration had on families as they tried to achieve the American dream. The city’s population grew by 50 percent, yet our tax revenue remained the same, stretching everything from school budgets to the police force and social services. Crime, gangs and drugs poured into our community and drained much needed resources from Americans and legal immigrants.

That’s why I have continuously worked to fix this country’s broken immigration system. We are a compassionate nation, one which has always offered a place for people seeking better lives. However, we are also a nation of laws, and we can neither enforce them nor overcome the challenges posed by illegal immigration if we don’t have an understanding of the size and scope of the problem.

In March, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it would be reinstating a question on citizenship status in the 2020 short-form census questionnaire. Within moments of this announcement, critics were quick to bash the decision, citing concerns over its constitutionality and its effect on immigrant communities.

To me, this outrage only shows how hypocritical the left’s immigration agenda is, because how can you advocate for illegal immigrants if you aren’t willing to understand the very problem you are trying to solve?

The Department of Homeland Security last made an official estimate of the number of illegal immigrants in the country back in 2012, putting the figure at 11.4 million. Today, it is believed there are 15 million to 20 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Without accurate information, Congress cannot make informed policy decisions in the best interest of our constituents and the country. For example, in 1986, the American people were told there were 1.5 million illegal immigrants in the country. However, amnesty was granted to more than 3 million.

Asking a question about citizenship on the census provides legislators with information needed to come up with real solutions to address the flow of illegal immigration that appeal to both sides of the aisle. Instead, some of my colleagues advocating on behalf of those who would benefit from solving this problem, such as recipients of DACA, refuse to support avenues that would allow those solutions to become a reality.

A citizenship question on the census is nothing new. It was regularly asked in every census until 1950. After that, it was asked once every decade between 1970 and 2000 on the Census Bureau’s long-form survey which was sent to one in every six households. Since 2005, the question has been included in the American Community Survey. I think it is safe to say that if the constitutionality of a citizenship question were a concern, it would not have been used by multiple administrations, Republican and Democrat alike.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.” There is nothing in our Constitution that prohibits the determination of how many of those residents are citizens.

It is common sense to me that in a representative democracy, we should know who the people are that sent us to Washington. Why choose ignorance rather than understand who the citizens of this country are, as well as legal residents and green card holders, especially since this data determines seats in Congress, and the allocation of billions of dollars in federal aid?

It can’t be because of privacy concerns, because there are strict laws prohibiting the release of personally identifiable information obtained by the census. Any disclosures of this information to federal agencies, such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, are illegal. Further, only the individual named on a census questionnaire and their legal heir can access the information for 72 years after its collection.

These privacy safeguards have helped the census accurately collect information about the demographics of our nation for years, and will continue to ensure the confidentiality of participant information regardless of whether a question about citizenship is included.

While we should have compassion for everyone, including those who came here by no fault of their own, we must first and foremost take into account the American worker and taxpayer. I am proud to stand with those hard-working individuals and will continue working to fix our broken immigration system.

Knowing how many people are in our country illegally allows lawmakers to produce workable solutions to illegal immigration and gives the American people the opportunity to judge for themselves the cost and benefits of those solutions.

I urge my colleagues to join me in trying to find ways to overcome the challenges posed by illegal immigration, and not just make claims about wanting to. The American people deserve more than false promises. They deserve a nation that puts them first.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican, from Hazelton, represents the 11th Congressional District, which includes areas north and west of Middletown, including Lower Swatara Township. He is a member of the Homeland Security Committee.