President Trump issued an executive order demanding all departments and agencies provide the Commerce Department with any information related to citizenship.
Trump issued the order after courts ruled against having the citizenship question included in the 2020 census.
All agencies are being ordered to provide the citizenship data to an interagency working group that will process the information.
The debate taking place now in America regarding citizenship reminds me of the mass enfranchisement of African Americans in the 19th Century.
In 1867, the Reconstruction Act prohibited suffrage limitations because of race.
This resulted in African Americans becoming the majority of the voting population in Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina – and a near majority in another four southern states.
In many southern states, African American registrations exceeded 90 per cent.
Change happened quickly and in Louisiana and South Carolina, more than 40 per cent of the members of the House of Representatives were African Americans.
Most African Americans voted Republican and the once-dominant Democrat hold on southern power was decimated.
So, what happened?
Between 1885 and 1908, all 11 post-Confederate states changed their constitution and electoral laws to disenfranchise the African Americans.
In order to comply with the law that forbade any restriction of voting rights based upon colour, new restrictions were introduced around property requirements and new literacy tests – as well as complex ballots.
As most African Americans were illiterate, their turnout at elections plummeted.
In South Carolina, where African American turnout had previously reached 96pc, it fell to just 11pc.
In Tennessee, legislators introduced the Dortch Law which created a complex ballot that required literacy.
Democratic party majorities rose four-fold and by 1896, African American electoral turnout was close to zero.
These so-called reforms effectively killed democracy in the American South even though black suffrage was enshrined in the Constitution.
African American turnout in elections in the southern states fell to just two per cent.
This resulted in the Republican party being wiped out and as one African American observed: “Every state in the south has got into the hands of the very men that had held us as slaves.”
This lesson from history must not be forgotten today, with democracies across the world coming under increased threats from those who wish to advantage themselves and their cronies.
Strongmen politicians who are able to muster support primarily from those who have strong views regarding other races and religions are unravelling previously won democratic gains.
History has many examples of those with an authoritarian personality sabotaging elections, trying to destroy liberal democracy and break up alliances.
In the last century we witnessed massive destruction and death due to the growth of fascism in Europe at the hands of individuals such as Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.
Liberal democracies established over time are very valuable and must be protected during this period of rapid change.
Fake news reports are now being replaced with very convincing fake videos of leaders saying things they would never have said in their wildest dreams.
Young people must understand that today it is not politics as usual during this chaotic period.
We must protect our democracies and not let them fall into authoritarian hands.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org