New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the Trump administration’s decision to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, saying the question will ruin the upcoming count, violating the Constitution’s demand for an accurate count.
The challenge, joined by attorneys general from 16 states and attorneys from big cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., says that immigrants — both legal and illegal — and others will be scared away from taking part in the 2020 count because they don’t want to answer their citizenship status.
That, the challengers said, will skew the census, undercutting the Constitution’s requirement of an “actual Enumeration” of the whole population every decade.
The citizenship question has become the latest explosive dividing line in immigration and race under President Trump, with the full array of anti-Trump organizations lining up to oppose the 2020 census decision.
That was on display Tuesday in New York, where Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights groups staged a rally to announce the lawsuit.
“Are you ready to do this fight? Are you ready to take on Trump,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigrant Community.
Asking about citizenship used to be standard on the full decennial census up through the middle of the 20th century. It was then shifted to the census “long form,” which went to about one in six households during the decennial count.
The long form has now been discontinued and instead the census relies on the American Community Survey, which is sent to between 1 and 2 percent of households each year, for citizenship estimates.
Mr. Schneiderman said those estimates are good enough for government work, and there’s no good reason to ask the citizenship question of everyone.
“Decade after decade, census officials have said very clearly that simply asking about immigration status would create an environment of fear and mistrust in immigrant communities, communities of color,” he said.
He also said procedurally the Trump administration added the question without putting it through the full array of tests that are usually required before any new questions are added.
The crux of the legal battle is likely to turn on what the Constitution requires when it demands the government conduct an “actual Enumeration” every decade.
Courts have generally shied away from getting too deep into Census Bureau decisions, and legal analysts said there’s no precedent for ordering a question to be added or dropped. Still, analysts said judges may decide the questions do interfere with an actual enumeration.
The Constitution says the count is used to apportion congressional districts between the states, but in reality the information is used for much more, including drawing the district lines for Congress and state legislatures, and for doling out hundreds of billions of dollars in federal cash for education, infrastructure and other needs.
The census does not plan to ask immigration or legal status. Instead, the question used is expected to be the same as what’s currently included on other census surveys such as the American Community Survey, which asks strictly about citizenship.
Mr. Schneiderman’s lawsuit joins one by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who filed his challenge less than three hours after the Trump administration announced the citizenship question on March 26.
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