Is the debate over a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census a proxy for a larger discussion on the meaning of citizenship itself?

That is what columnist Jonathan S. Tobin proposes in a piece in this morning’s New York Post. The Trump administration had tried to insert a citizen question, but was thwarted by the Supreme Court.

The Court didn’t rule out asking the citizenship question—which has been asked on the Census in the past—but said instead that the administration had not made a good argument. There simply isn’t time for the administration to go back to the high Court.

Opponents of the citizenship question argued that it would make people afraid to reply to the Census and thus would prevent some states from getting resources and even reducing their representation in Congress, which is based on population.

Tobin argues that these objections miss the point:

It is unlikely that many illegal immigrants or others who fear the government will participate in the Census — whether the document asks about citizenship or not. Thus, even if Trump had gotten his way, it wouldn’t have significantly affected Census results or the composition of Congress, which the Census results shape.

Yet the cultural question at the heart of the debate, having to do with the meaning of citizenship, is worth arguing about. To wit, by going after Trump’s proposal, his opponents ultimately targeted American sovereignty itself.

Much of the intensity of the citizenship question is simply the automatic opposition to anything President Trump does. However, as Tobin points out, this time intensity reflects a shift in the how U.S. citizenship is valued:  

But far more important is that many in the Democratic Party — including almost all of its 2020 presidential candidates — have embraced a view of illegal immigration that is indistinguishable from advocacy for open borders. Not too long ago, the party sought amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country, especially those brought here as children.

But their position has now shifted to one in favor of decriminalizing illegal immigration altogether — and even giving ­illegal migrants driver’s licenses, plus taxpayer-funded health care and college tuition.

It’s why abolishing ICE, once a position associated with the fringe of the fringe, is now mainstream among leading Democrats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has gone so far as to float disbanding the Department of Homeland Security.

Candidates should be asked to define the obligations and value of U.S. citizenship.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to dodge the question by saying something like U.S. citizenship is just so great everybody should have it.

But voters are smart enough to spot fake answers.

A majority of Americans, by the way, support having a citizenship question on the Census.