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We're not sure why United States Senator Steve Daines wants to carry Wilbur Ross' and President Donald J. Trump's political water, but if he so desperately wants to include a citizenship question on the census then he needs to ensure the government won't use the information to round up those same residents.

Daines' solution in search of a problem is more like a political shenanigan meant to give Ross' ham-handed political scare tactic legitimacy by running it through Congress.

Ross and the Trump administration still have yet to prove how putting the "citizenship question" on the census will help improve the count. In fact, it may make the count less accurate, which seems self-defeating.

The idea is to figure out how many people live in any one area. While we understand that there is a difference between a citizen and someone living here either legally on a visa or illegally, the purpose is to count.

But some worry that if the citizenship question is asked, it will undercount minorities living in parts of the country because there will be a reluctance to answer the question for fear that the information will be misappropriated by the federal government for immigrant crackdowns or roundups.

We'd love to say this is an irrational or absurd fear, but unfortunately, with the Trump administration's approach to separating families and bans on different groups, before that question is asked, federal officials like Daines need to specify how that information will not be breached by other agencies to harm those already in America. What measures would he also plan to safeguard that same data by law?

We suspect the Trump administration doesn't really care how the information is used because of its hard-line approach to immigration. But we believe the hallmark of America is that it affords justice and due process to those most vulnerable, and we can't think of any group more at risk for exploitation than those who have fled to this country often seeking political asylum or in hopes of feeding their families.

While we believe that the census has more information than just the number of people and their respective ages, and it could be a helpful thing to understand how many are citizens, Daines' proposal has seemingly provided no safeguard to ensure this data is not misused or abused for political purposes. Moreover, it seems like he is simply pandering to an administration already under fire. He is being a good political soldier, not really solving the problems that are at the top of Montana needs, which include resolution on trade, healthcare and concerns about natural disasters like wildfires.

Again, if Daines is so serious about asking the question — if it really is that important — what is he going to do to make sure that data is protected and shielded from misuse? Does he really want to know how many people are in America, or does he want to make it easier for the President to carry out questionable policies and exploit those who are vulnerable?

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The Billings Gazette

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