Attorneys General from 17 states and the District of Columbia are suing the Trump administration for its decision to ask about immigration status on the 2020 census, a move denounced by immigrant rights advocates as an effort to "undercount communities of color."
Led by Eric Schneiderman of New York, the state attorneys—along with legal representatives from six cities and and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors—filed suit (pdf) in hopes of requiring the Trump administration "to enforce the federal government's constitutional obligation to conduct an 'actual Enumeration' of the national population every ten years, by determining the 'whole number of persons in the United States."
"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," Schneiderman said Tuesday. "For decades, administrations from both parties have treated this constitutional requirement with the respect and reverence it deserves. Now, the Trump administration is breaking with that tradition—recklessly abandoning nearly 70 years of practice by demanding to know the citizenship status of each resident counted."
Schneiderman also outlined the potential consequences if the 2020 census moves forward as planned, warning, "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."
BREAKING: NY's attorney general just announced a lawsuit to block Trump officials from including a citizenship question on the 2020 census pic.twitter.com/pUCT2u33Do
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) April 3, 2018
Attorneys representing Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle have signed on to the lawsuit.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, joined Schneiderman at a press conference on Tuesday to express her support for the filing.
In a series of tweets, Gupta called the decision by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to add the citizenship question to the next census "a failure of leadership" and "a capitulation to President Trump's craven, nativist agenda," noting that the move was made "over the objections and advice of census experts, former Census Directors, and career Census Bureau staff."
Last week, Commerce @SecretaryRoss caved to political pressure and added a citizenship question to the #2020Census. The Trump administration says the question is critical for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. We know this is wrong. #SaveTheCensus 2/
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) April 3, 2018
Ross's move came in response to a request from the Trump Justice Department—led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions—which claimed that adding a citizenship question would help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA). However, as Billy Corriher noted in an article for Facing South, experts say that while "the new question will not help enforce the VRA, it could lead to less representation in Congress and state legislatures for people of color."
"Immigrant advocates and former Census Bureau officials have argued that many families with undocumented members would refuse to participate in the 2020 count because of the question," Corriher explained, pointing to a recent survey which "found that fears about the census have increased markedly among immigrants since Trump took office after campaigning against immigration, despite strict confidentiality rules implemented after World War II, when the Census Bureau gave government agencies information on Japanese Americans so that they could be sent to internment camps."
Another lawsuit filed by the NY Attorney General's Office challenging the addition of a citizenship question to #2020Census.
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) April 3, 2018
— Make the Road NY (@MaketheRoadNY) April 3, 2018
“No, this question isn’t about voting rights. It’s about intimidation. It’s about going after people who are living in the shadows.” - @RepMaloney #NewYorkCounts2020 #SaveTheCensus pic.twitter.com/KYQwOZgKw6
— New York Immigration Coalition (@thenyic) April 3, 2018