Cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion on cen­sus di­vi­sive

GOP at­tor­neys gen­eral ar­gue it will im­prove the ac­cu­racy of count; Dems say it might drive down par­tic­i­pa­tion

The Progress-Index - - OBITUARIES - By David A. Lieb

A Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plan to ask peo­ple if they are U.S. cit­i­zens dur­ing the 2020 cen­sus has prompted a le­gal up­roar from Demo­cratic state at­tor­neys gen­eral, who ar­gue it could drive down par­tic­i­pa­tion and lead to an in­ac­cu­rate count.

Yet not a sin­gle Repub­li­can at­tor­ney gen­eral has sued — not even from states with large im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions that stand to lose if a cen­sus un­der­count of im­mi­grants af­fects the al­lot­ment of U.S. House seats and fed­eral fund­ing for states.

In fact, many GOP at­tor­neys gen­eral had urged Trump’s cen­sus team to add a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion.

“We al­ways are bet­ter off hav­ing a more ac­cu­rate count of cit­i­zens ver­sus non-cit­i­zens. I see no down­side in this,” said Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton, vice chair­man of the Repub­li­can At­tor­neys Gen­eral As­so­ci­a­tion.

The di­verg­ing views of top Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic state at­tor­neys highlight how even the most ba­sic data col­lec­tion de­ci­sions can quickly split along par­ti­san lines amid the in­tense de­bate about im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

Con­cerns among im­mi­grants have risen as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has cracked down on so-called sanc­tu­ary ju­ris­dic­tions, in­creased ar­rests by fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion officers, called the Na­tional Guard to the border with Mex­ico and sought to limit travel to the U.S. from cer­tain pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries.

U.S. Commerce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross an­nounced last month that the 2020 cen­sus dis­trib­uted to ev­ery U.S. house­hold will in­clude a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion for the first time since 1950. He said the ques­tion was needed in part to help the gov­ern­ment en­force the Vot­ing Rights Act, the 1965 law that was in­tended to pro­tect the po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of mi­nor­ity groups.

He said it will pro­vide a more ac­cu­rate tally of vot­ing-el­i­gi­ble res­i­dents than is cur­rently avail­able from a smaller sam­pling sur­vey that in­cludes the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion.

In a let­ter ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion, Ross said the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau es­ti­mated that as many as 630,000 ad­di­tional house­holds might not re­spond if a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion is in­cluded. Yet he ac­knowl­edged the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not know what the ac­tual con­se­quences might be be­cause it hasn’t tested the change.

The nation’s only dress re­hearsal for the 2020 cen­sus, cur­rently tak­ing place in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land, does not in­clude the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion on the sur­vey for­warded to res­i­dents. Nev­er­the­less, Ross de­ter­mined the ben­e­fits of in­clud­ing the ques­tion out­weigh any con­cerns.

Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra, a Demo­crat, filed a fed­eral law­suit im­me­di­ately af­ter Ross an­nounced the ques­tion would be added. The nation’s most pop­u­lous state also has the high­est num­ber of for­eign-born res­i­dents, most of whom are nat­u­ral­ized U.S. cit­i­zens or hold some other le­gal sta­tus.

Last week, New York At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Sch­nei­der­man led a coali­tion of 17 Demo­cratic at­tor­neys gen­eral, the Dis­trict of Columbia, six cities and the bi­par­ti­san U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors in fil­ing a se­cond fed­eral law­suit.

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