Census Citizenship Question Could Cost California

Critics say immigrants will fear contributing to citizenship data, which was used during Japanese internment.

Five hours after the Trump administration announced it would add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, California officials filed a lawsuit that deemed the move “unconstitutional.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Monday night that it would heed a Trump administration request to include citizenship as a question on the 2020 Census, prompting serious concern from census experts and civil rights advocates. The U.S. Department of Justice filed an official request in December, but critics have warned that the question will lead to an undercount of demographics — which are used to draw political districts and determine federal resources.

On Tuesday morning, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla called the late-night citizenship addition “reckless” and an effort to undermine an underfunded, understaffed Census Bureau. And as a state with a significant immigrant population that will likely fear answering the questionnaire, California could see reduced representation in Congress and federal revenues.

“California simply has too much to lose to allow the Trump Administration to botch this important decennial obligation,” Becerra said in a statement. “What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to disrupt an accurate Census count.”  

Citizenship was last included on the decennial census in 1950, seven years after the information was used in the Japanese internment process. Now, it’s included in the annual American Community Survey, but the commerce department says it’s also needed on the broader, comprehensive census.

“Having citizenship data at the census block level will permit more effective enforcement of the [1965 Voting Rights Act],” the commerce department stated. “Secretary [Wilbur] Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts.”

Padilla argues that bringing the question back not only reneges on bipartisan protocol for 70 years, but that its intentions appear sinister when given context. The Trump administration has a disbanded voter fraud commission, has not responded to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and espouses anti-immigration rhetoric and frequent disdain for California.

“That this administration would claim that adding the question is simply them seeking to enforce the Voting Rights Act is not just laughable, it’s contemptible,” Padilla said at a press conference Tuesday. “We need only look at the administration’s deplorable record when it pertains to voting rights.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also announced he would lead a multistate lawsuit to block the move.

“We look forward to making our case in court,” Becerra said. “This is not our first trip to the rodeo.”

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