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Lawsuit Challenges Census Citizenship Question

Civil rights advocates say adding a citizenship question to the census will discourage immigrant participation. (U.S. Census Bureau)
Civil rights advocates say adding a citizenship question to the census will discourage immigrant participation. (U.S. Census Bureau)
June 7, 2018

NEW YORK — A lawsuit filed Wednesday asks a federal court to stop the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The lawsuit was filed by the American and New York Civil Liberties Unions on behalf of immigrant-rights organizations. The suit charges that the order to include the question intentionally discriminates against immigrants and undermines the constitutional mandate to accurately count the entire population.

According to NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman, the question would discourage immigrants from participating, and that could have disastrous consequences for places such as New York.

"Our political representation would be artificially reduced because the numbers of people based on which representation is determined would be reduced,” Lieberman said; “and our share of government services would also be artificially reduced."

The U.S. Justice Department asked for the citizenship question to be added, claiming it would help with enforcement of the voting law.

But Lieberman said there is nothing in the constitutional mandate creating the census that would justify asking participants to state their citizenship.

"The baloney that the Justice Department has put out about 'this helps us do our job if we know how many citizens are living where' is really just that, baloney,” she said; “because there are already mechanisms in place to count citizens."

She added that there hasn't been a citizenship question on the U.S. Census form in almost 70 years.

Citizenship is not a requirement for participation in the Census. Lieberman contends that adding the question is part of a broader pattern of overt hostility from the administration toward immigrants.

"When you're living in an environment where you have every reason to be afraid of what the government will do if they find out that you're living at a particular address and not a citizen, then the impact is to intimidate you from participating,” Lieberman argued.

Defendants in the lawsuit are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the U.S. Census Bureau.

More information is available at ACLU.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY