Democratic attorneys general in several states said Tuesday they would bring legal action to stop the Trump administration from adding a question on citizenship to the next U.S. census, a question they said would lead to serious undercounts that could reverberate for years to come.
The administration said late Tuesday it would include a question on the decennial survey that would ask whether respondents are American citizens.
From The Hill
That question has not appeared on a census questionnaire since 1950. Civil rights groups and Democrats in blue states said the question, combined with the Trump administration’s hostile attitude toward immigrants, could lead to undocumented immigrants avoiding the census altogether, creating an underestimation of the number of residents who live in certain states.
An undercount could put at risk billions of dollars in federal aid, in programs ranging from health care to education and even law enforcement funding for some states. Figures from the census are used to allocate federal money through programs across the government.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking to block the question from appearing on the census, which will take place in 2020.
“Having an accurate Census count should be of the utmost importance for every Californian,” Becerra said in a statement. “The Census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade. California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump administration to botch this important decennial obligation.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) said in a statement Tuesday he would lead a multistate effort against the question. In a statement, Schneiderman cited the 14th Amendment and the enumeration clause of the Constitution as potential areas for legal challenges.
“This move directly targets states like New York that have large, thriving immigrant populations — threatening billions of dollars in federal funding for New York as well as fair representation in Congress and the electoral college,” Schneiderman said in his statement.
Legal experts said it was not immediately clear that states would be successful in challenging the Commerce Department’s decision in court.
“The power to do the census is given to the federal government,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.
Research shows that more than 60 percent of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States live in just 20 metro areas across the country. Twelve of those 20 metro areas are in blue states that backed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by wide margins in the 2016 presidential election.
More than a million undocumented immigrants live in the New York area, and a million more live in Los Angeles, according to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center. Chicago, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Denver and four California metro areas all have between 100,000 and 400,000 undocumented immigrant residents.
An undercount of undocumented immigrants also threatens funding for several red states where those immigrants live. Houston, Dallas and Austin, Texas, all have large undocumented populations, as does Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Fla., and Phoenix. Those metro areas are all in red states President Trump carried in 2016.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department asked the Commerce Department to include the citizenship question on the next census. Nineteen attorneys general, all Democrats, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, himself a former census-taker, asking him to leave the question out.
But in a memo released Monday, Ross directed Karen Dunn Kelley, the Commerce under secretary for economic affairs, to develop plans to add the citizenship question to the census nonetheless. Ross cited concern from the U.S. Census Bureau itself that the question would lead to lower response rates among non-citizens.
“I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” Ross wrote.
Democrats reacted angrily to the Trump administration’s decision to include the new question. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said his group would sue the administration to block the question.
“Make no mistake — this decision is motivated purely by politics,” Holder said.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called the addition “a craven attack on our democracy and a transparent attempt to intimidate immigrant communities.”
Civil rights groups also opposed adding the question to the decennial survey. In a letter to Ross, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — an organization that includes senior officials from the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the AARP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, among many other groups — said the question would degrade the quality of the data the census produces.
“Adding a new citizenship question to the 2020 Census would destroy any chance for an accurate count, discard years of careful research, and increase costs significantly,” the group wrote.
The Justice Department cited Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in its request for the new question, but civil rights groups said the department had never used Census data to enforce the Voting Rights Act in the first place.
“As attorney general, I did not — nor did my predecessors — request the addition of a citizenship question to the decennial census to enforce the [Voting Rights Act],” Holder said in a statement. “We did not need to: Data derived from the existing census process was perfectly adequate for any voting litigation that arose.”