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Marco Rubio Doesn't See A Problem With Trump Census. Emma Gonzalez Probably Does.

Andrew Harnik
AP via Miami Herald
Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of last month's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, speaking at the Washington DC March For Our Lives event last Saturday - wearing a Cuban flag patch.


Ever since he ran away from immigration reform, Americans no longer look to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for bridge-building leadership on that issue. But I’m still willing to believe Rubio’s heart is in the right place, even if his head left the building.

So I was also willing to believe the Miami Republican was sincere when he told reporters in Tallahassee this week that he doesn’t “see the problem” with the Trump administration’s proposal to ask folks if they’re U.S. citizens in the 2020 Census.

Everyone from immigration advocates to census experts do see a big problem with it. They say the citizenship question will scare immigrants, both legal and undocumented, from participating in the census. And that, they argue, will result in gross population undercounts – and therefore gross government underrepresentation and underfunding – in communities that can least afford it.

READ MORE: O Marco, Where Art Thou? What Happened to Senator Rubio's DREAM Devotion?

Rubio, unlike the rest of his congressional colleagues from immigrant-rich Miami, doesn’t see it that way. He thinks even immigrants should consider the citizenship query just another benign personal data request.

“Why wouldn’t [the census] ask you about your citizenship status?” Rubio asked. “I think there’s just a lot of noise being made about it.”

I could see reason in Rubio’s take. After all, many other industrialized nations include a citizenship question in their censuses; the U.N., in its “Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses,” says it’s appropriate.

The real purpose of the census' citizenship question is to spook immigrants – and it's driven by the same hateful crowd that thinks the Cuban flag is a communist symbol.

More important, the Census Bureau is strictly prohibited from sharing its findings with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

So perhaps Rubio was right. Maybe we should just relax and concede that all we’ll see as a result of this is a better accounting of U.S. citizens.

And then, just as Rubio was about to snake-charm me back into my comfy rattan basket, I got snake-bitten right back out of it by Steve King.

King is the far-right Iowa congressman whose racist xenophobia – last year he tweeted that non-white immigrants are destroying Western civilization – has made him a darling of President Trump’s voter base. This week King’s campaign Facebook page posted a picture of Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez. It shows her speaking at last Saturday’s massive March For Our Lives event in Washington D.C. calling for tighter gun control, which King vehemently opposes.

Because Gonzalez, who is Cuban-American, had a Cuban flag patch on her jacket, King’s campaign vilifies her for “wearing the flag of a communist country while simultaneously calling for gun control” and for ignoring that her “ancestors fled [Cuba] when the dictatorship turned [the island] into a prison camp.”


For starters, the post is embarrassingly stupid. Cuban-Americans display the Cuban flag everywhere – their clothes, cars, windows, tattoos. And they do so not in support of communism (try coming to Miami and suggesting that on Southwest Eighth Street, Congressman King; you’ll need police protection) but in the hope of seeing Cuba freed from communism. My kids’ bedrooms sport the flag of Venezuela, their mother’s native country, for the same reason.


But aside from being epically ignorant, King’s post was genuinely frightening. It was a reminder of the gratuitous hatred hard-core Trumpworld has for anything even remotely foreign – and of its neanderthal crusade to restore America’s white, Christian profile picture via immigration policy and other means.

In other words, King and company are the force driving Trump and company to include the citizenship question in the census. Its real purpose is to spook immigrants – because even legal immigrants will feel ample reason to balk at taking part in a Trump-directed census if they’re going to be asked about their status.

An immigrant-light census tally would then probably hand Trump, King and Republicans more political leverage via legislative redistricting.

Rubio knows that – and all but admitted as much this week when he tweeted that not asking about citizenship “dilutes the political representation of citizens….”

Still, the King crowd are the same people Rubio, to his credit, recently criticized when they branded Parkland students like Gonzalez as paid actors of the political left. And they’re the same folks who think the Cuban flag that’s dear to Rubio – himself a Cuban-American – is a communist symbol.

So start waving that flag, Senator. And start seeing the problem with Trump’s census nonsense.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.