By Gina Martinez
The fight for a fair 2020 census has led to a lawsuit to block the Trump administration from demanding citizenship information.
On Tuesday morning, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed the lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan. Schneiderman was joined by 17 attorneys general, six cities and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors. The coalition argued that a question on citizenship would depress turnout in states with large immigrant populations, threatening states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College and leading to the potential loss of billions in critical federal funds for education, infrastructure and Medicaid.
The census controversy began Dec. 12, when the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau demand citizenship information in the 2020 census form sent to every household in the United States even though the census is supposed to count all persons, citizens and non-citizens alike. The DOJ argued that the collection of citizenship information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
But according to Schneiderman and 18 other states in a letter sent to the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in February, the demand would have the opposite effect by driving down participation in immigrant communities. The potential undercount would deprive immigrant communities of fair representation when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn, the letter said.
Queens is the nation’s most ethnically diverse county, where nearly half of the residents are foreign-born.
Schneiderman said he is proud to lead this coalition in the fight for a full and fair census. He said that for decades, both parties have respected the constitutional requirement with respect and now the Trump administration is recklessly breaking with that tradition.
“One of the federal government’s most solemn obligations is a fair and accurate count of all people in the country, citizen and non-citizen alike,” he said. “With immigrant communities already living in fear, demanding citizenship status would drive them into the shadows, leading to a major undercount that threatens billions in federal funding for New York and our fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College.
Schneiderman’s lawsuit was brought under the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution, arguing that by asking for citizenship information, the Trump administration will impede an “actual enumeration” required by the Constitution. It was also brought under the Administrative Procedure Act, which allows courts to set aside unlawful or arbitrary and capricious agency decisions.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said the citizen question on the Census 2020 is just another attack on immigrant communities coming from Trump.
“No one should be using the census as a political tool, especially when the goal of the questionnaire is to get a real count of the population,” he said. “These un-American, racist tactics will hurt us because it will provide a bad, inaccurate count, since many immigrants, out of fear, won’t participate.”
Schneiderman pointed out that the Census Bureau’s own research shows that the decision to demand citizenship information will “inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count” by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities, because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information. Schneiderman and other lawmakers said these concerns have only been amplified by President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and pattern of actions that target immigrant communities.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been vocal against Trump’s anti-immigrant stance, said he is joining the lawsuit to stop the president from politicizing the census.
“A fair and accurate 2020 count is constitutionally mandated to ensure political power and resources remain with the people — where they belong,” he said. “President Trump’s decision puts our amazing city of immigrants in jeopardy and threatens federal funding for infrastructure, health care and public safety in New York.”
The Census Bureau rejected the addition of a citizenship question in 1980, saying “questions as to citizenship are particularly sensitive in minority communities and would inevitably trigger hostility, resentment, and refusal to cooperate.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart