OP-ED: Citizenship question on census does no harm to immigrants

Posted at 1:26 PM, Apr 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-12 13:26:53-04

Editor's Note: This op-ed was provided to RTV6 by Attorney General Curtis Hill.

Plans for the 2020 census questionnaire include one inquiry that should strike reasonable people as straightforward and valid: Are you a U.S. citizen?

Some of the nation’s highest-ranking legal officers, however, are calling it offensive. Further, these dignitaries say that including it on the questionnaire would even be unconstitutional.

Seventeen states, seven cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau and Commerce Department demanding that plans to include the question be dropped.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading this lawsuit, said the question is intended to frighten foreign-born people and “is really just an effort to punish places like New York that welcome immigrants,” according to NBC News.

Intended to frighten? An effort to punish? Perhaps my colleague from New York would prefer to abolish the census all together. Other questions, though pertinent to gathering significant data points for analysis, may be personal or even invasive. Yet this group of defenders of the Constitution is focused on the question of whether one is a U.S. citizen? 

Well, it doesn’t take a law degree to recognize that this lawsuit is unfounded. 

Although I am not from New York or one of the other 16 states that filed suit, I firmly believe in the value and great legacy of immigration to our nation. In every generation, immigrants have made America better, stronger, richer, and more productive. Our diverse cultural experiences are owed in large measure to the influence of the immigrant, born on foreign soil but arrived here in search of freedom.

The influence of the immigrant is part of our very heart and soul as a nation.

On a personal level, my faith teaches me to embrace people from every nation and race. Take Leviticus 19:34: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

How we treat immigrants in America will define much about our culture, our character and our spirit as we move forward in the 21st century.

And yet welcoming legal immigrants and treating them as brothers and sisters does not require us to abandon border security – particularly in an age of increasing terrorist threats. We have the right and even the duty to monitor and regulate who is entering and leaving our country. “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation,” as President Ronald Reagan correctly told us.

Crafting practical solutions to the millions of undocumented immigrants already here does not require that we abandon the collection of data points, such as citizenship status, that can aid us in developing the comprehensive reform that we desperately require to move our nation forward.

As Indiana’s attorney general, I fully support the federal government’s constitutional authority to establish and enforce immigration policy. A comprehensive immigration policy must include absolute border security; a straightforward process that encourages legal immigration; and a resolution to properly address the complexities of the millions of undocumented living in America. Gathering data on citizenship undoubtedly could aid the Congress in crafting new and effective immigration policy over the next decade.

This latest lawsuit is another in a long line of efforts by various states and municipalities to thwart and ignore existing immigration law. For the good of all citizens and noncitizens alike, local and state law enforcement agencies must always cooperate with federal authorities seeking to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. In fact, they are legally bound to do so.

We need not venture any further into the legal weeds to state a simple and obvious conclusion: The federal government is well within its rightful authority to ask census respondents whether they are citizens. (In fact, a negative response does not necessarily mean that the respondent is illegal or undocumented. Those with work or student visas are not U.S. citizens but are here lawfully.)

Moving ahead, let’s have meaningful debates over immigration policy. Let’s work to balance mutual goals. Let’s continue to welcome “the huddled masses” while also safeguarding national security. But let’s do so in a straightforward manner rather than through legal gamesmanship and inflammatory rhetoric. All sides can do better in this regard.

Curtis Hill is the 43rd Attorney General of Indiana. This op-ed was provided to RTV6.