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New York state Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a press conference on November 19, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York state Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a press conference on November 19, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Twenty-One State Attorneys General File Suit to Stop 'Illegal' Effort by Trump to Skew the Census for Political Gain

The effort by the president to thwart the counting by excluding undocumented immigrants, said New York AG Letitia James, is "another election-year tactic to fire up his base by dehumanizing immigrants and using them as scapegoats for his failures as a leader."

Jon Queally

New York state Attorney General Letitia James on Friday spearheaded a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over his attempt to "illegally" tip the representation in the U.S. House of Representatives by excluding the counting of undocumented immigrants in the 2020 census.

According to a statement from James' office, the suit—filed by a coalition of states, cities, and counties and backed by 21 attorneys general nationwide—"seeks to stop the Trump Administration from politicizing the census and violating basic constitutional commands, and instead aims to ensure the administration counts the 'whole number of persons' residing in the country for apportionment, as the U.S. Constitution unambiguously requires."

The move by Trump to alter the Census guidelines was denounced as "flagrantly unconstitutional" when it was announced Tuesday and James vowed at the time to respond with a legal challenge.

In announcing Friday's lawsuit—which names Trump, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Census Bureau, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Census Director Steven Dillingham—James said the president's effort to upend the census by targeting immigrant communities and excluding the undocumented from being counted "is the latest in a long list of anti-immigrant actions and statements he has made since the beginning of his first campaign."

"It's another election-year tactic to fire up his base by dehumanizing immigrants and using them as scapegoats for his failures as a leader," James added. "No one ceases to be a person because they lack documentation, which is why we filed this lawsuit. Instead of fear mongering, now is the time to be engaging in a robust education and outreach campaign to ensure each person in this country is counted. We beat the president before in court, and we will beat him again."

The Attorney General's office argues that the legal case for the lawsuit and the Constitution is "abundantly clear" on how the Census data is to be used and that all residents living in a state, regardless of legal status, must be counted. The coalition's lawsuit, according to the statement, argues that any apportionment of representation based on the exclusion of undocumented immigrants will:

  • Lead to the loss of congressional seats and presidential electors in the Electoral College,
  • Skew the division of electoral districts within jurisdictions by impairing state and local redistricting efforts that rely on the census count,
  • Reduce federal funds to state and local jurisdictions by deterring immigrants from responding to the decennial census that is currently underway, and
  • Degrade the quality of census data that states and local jurisdictions rely on to perform critical governmental functions.

"There is no citizenship question or any questions on immigration status on the census," said Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the NYC Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. "Every New Yorker has the right to be counted to ensure our communities' fair share of federal funding and representation. We know the resilience of our immigrant communities and the bravery so many have had in the face of countless attacks by the Trump Administration. As always, we will fight to ensure our communities' power and contributions are recognized and that all New Yorkers are counted."

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