Census citizenship query sparks anger

Court clearance for a hearing on the matter may stoke it further

Ritu Jha


Civil rights organizations are happy with a New York federal court ruling permitting a hearing on the contentious idea of the Trump administration to add a question about people’s citizenship to the 2020 census.

But many state attorneys general and other officials are also pleased with the decision.

A coalition made up of California, New York and 15 other states; eight cities including Chicago and Philadelphia; and the bipartisan US Conference of Mayors had in April sought to prevent the inclusion of a question about the respondent’s citizenship in the census.

“Today’s decision is a victory for all Americans,” said Dennis Herrera, city attorney of San Francisco. “It allows this important lawsuit to move forward and ensures that the people have their day in court. This ruling is a sharp rebuke of the Trump administration’s cynical attempt to undermine the US census and dramatically undercount the population,” Herrera said in a press note. He added that such an undercount could deprive needy families of federal help to get food, health care and housing.

“The ruling is a big win for New Yorkers,” said New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood in her own statement.

It was on March 26 this year that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that he had directed the Census Bureau to add the question to the 2020 census, seeking public comment by August 7.

The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, which helps the state and the federal government in deciding resources for schools, veterans’ welfare, infrastructure, vital resources, and planning for large and small businesses.

To create awareness and ensure the question was not on the census, the Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) held a teleconference with the ethnic media titled ‘Tracking the 2020 census – the citizenship question: A call for public comment’ July 17. The group’s partners were the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

The speakers agreed that the Trump administration’s decision violates the constitution, was racially discriminatory and feared it could result in a severe undercount of minorities that Herrera mentioned or even spur more deportations.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of LCEF, said, “The 2020 census is one of the most urgent civil rights issues facing the country. And right now, every person in America has the opportunity to help ensure the count is fair and accurate for all communities.”

She urged the members of various communities to respond to the effort.

“The census bureau has invited comments… That means people can directly speak to the Trump administration about this misguided action,” she said, asserting that the commerce secretary’s insistence that the question be added is intended to further an anti-immigrant agenda. She added that this will affect everybody, including people of color, young children, poor people and those in urban areas.

“We urge every member of the public to submit a comment to the commerce department,” Gupta said.

“It’s not too late to stop and remove this question,” said John C Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

AAJC and the law office of Robert P Newman filed a lawsuit last month on behalf of 21 organizations challenging the Trump administration’s decision to add the citizenship question because they believe it is motivated by racial animus.

“We have to stand and ensure all are counted,” Yang said. “We will protect our community with all our resources.”

Terri Ann Lowenthal, former staff director, House Census and Population Subcommittee, and policy advisor to the LCEF threw up her hands metaphorically when asked about if the administration will change its mind if the public comments are negative.

“If anybody could know what this administration is going to do on this particular issue. We all get a gold medal. We are in a very challenging time,” she said.

The April lawsuit was filed by the states of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington; the District of Columbia; and the cities of Chicago, Providence, Philadelphia, Seattle, Phoenix, Central Falls, Columbus and Pittsburgh; counties of Cameron, El Paso, Hidalgo and Monterey.

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