Attorneys General Across The Country Just Sued Trump Over Census Citizenship Question: Report
Attorneys general in several Democratic states said Tuesday they are taking 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 Trump administration announced on Tuesday it would include a question on the decennial survey that would ask whether respondents are American citizens, The Hill reports. The question was added after U.S. Attorney general Jeff Sessions asked the Commerce Department to include it on the next census. That question has not appeared on a census questionnaire since 1950.
Civil rights groups and Democrats in blue states said the controversial 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, putting 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.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman 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.
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.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney general Jeff Sessions asked the Commerce Department to include the citizenship question on the next census. Nineteen attorneys general 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 undersecretary 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.
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.
According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, 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.
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.