GOP at­tor­neys gen­eral sup­port cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion on cen­sus

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - 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 nonci­t­i­zens. 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 for­eign­born 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. They con­tend the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion will de­ter par­tic­i­pa­tion and il­le­gally in­hibit the Con­sti­tu­tion’s re­quire­ment for an “ac­tual enu­mer­a­tion” of res­i­dents.

A third law­suit was filed this past week by a group of seven Mary­land and Ari­zona res­i­dents who say adding the ques­tion could lead to an un­der­count that could di­min­ish fed­eral fund­ing and con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tion for their states. The Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the U.S. House to be based on a count of the to­tal res­i­dents in each state, not just cit­i­zens.

The cen­sus, un­der­taken ev­ery 10 years, also is used to de­ter­mine how much money to dis­trib­ute to local com­mu­ni­ties through var­i­ous fed­eral pro­grams.

“If we don’t count all the people who live in our city — all the res­i­dents we have — it could mean that our com­mu­nity doesn’t get our fair share of mon­eys or aid,” said Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas, and a Demo­crat who is on the board of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors. “It could also mean that we don’t get the rep­re­sen­ta­tion in gov­ern­ment at all lev­els. The im­pacts could be huge.”

The Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Pol­icy re­cently an­a­lyzed how a hy­po­thet­i­cal 1 per­cent un­der­count be­yond the fig­ures re­ported in the 2010 cen­sus would have af­fected 2015 fed­eral fund­ing for Med­i­caid and sev­eral other so­cial pro­grams in each state, as­sum­ing the un­der­count oc­curred only in that state.

The largest fi­nan­cial hits would have been to the Repub­li­can-led states of Texas, Florida and Ohio, the swing state of Penn­syl­va­nia and the tra­di­tion­ally Demo­cratic state of Illi­nois, the re­port found. Demo­cratic-led Cal­i­for­nia and New York would not have been af­fected be­cause their Med­i­caid re­im­burse­ment rates al­ready are at min­i­mum lev­els.

Es­ti­mates of those liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally range from 11 mil­lion to a lit­tle over 12 mil­lion people.

Cen­sus data is not shared with im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment author­i­ties. Yet im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates be­lieve a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion could dis­cour­age even some who are law­fully present from re­spond­ing, partly be­cause of fears the gov­ern­ment could track down rel­a­tives liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally.

The U.S. has about 44 mil­lion res­i­dents who were not cit­i­zens at birth, com­pris­ing 13.5 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent Cen­sus Bureau in­for­ma­tion. More than half of all im­mi­grants live in Cal­i­for­nia, Texas, New York or Florida.

Last week, a Demo­cratic state sen­a­tor in Florida for­mally asked the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Repub­li­can Pam Bondi, to join the New York law­suit chal­leng­ing the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion. That’s un­likely be­cause Bondi was among 11 Repub­li­can state at­tor­neys gen­eral and two gov­er­nors who signed a March 13 let­ter urg­ing the Com­merce Depart­ment to in­clude a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion.

Mi­nor­ity Democrats in the Ari­zona Leg­is­la­ture also urged GOP At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Brnovich to join the law­suit. But his spokesman said that won’t hap­pen, just as he re­fused to sign onto the Repub­li­can let­ter urg­ing the ques­tion be in­cluded.

“We have con­cerns this is­sue has been overly politi­cized,” Brnovich spokesman Ryan An­der­son said in a state­ment.

The let­ter from Repub­li­can state of­fi­cials said a cen­sus cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion could help mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties by al­low­ing those draw­ing leg­isla­tive dis­tricts to en­sure there are enough vot­ing-el­i­gi­ble cit­i­zens in a par­tic­u­lar district for mi­nori­ties to be able to elect a can­di­date of their choice un­der the fed­eral Vot­ing Rights Act.

Cit­i­zen­ship data from the Cen­sus Bureau’s an­nual Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey has been suf­fi­cient in past court cases to meet the stan­dards of the Vot­ing Rights Act, said Vanita Gupta, who over­saw the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s civil rights divi­sion dur­ing the fi­nal years of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

That sur­vey is sent to fewer than 3 per­cent of U.S. house­holds.

If a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion is asked of ev­ery U.S. house­hold, “you would ba­si­cally end up with a com­pletely in­ac­cu­rate cen­sus be­cause of the con­cerns around de­pressed par­tic­i­pa­tion,” said Gupta, who now is pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights.


An en­ve­lope con­tain­ing a 2018 cen­sus let­ter is pic­tured in Prov­i­dence, R.I., as part of the nation’s only test run of the 2020 Cen­sus.

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