A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Trump administration could not include a question on the 2020 census asking if a person was a citizen of the United States.
Plaintiffs successfully argued that adding a citizenship question would reduce the number of responses, particularly among noncitizen and Hispanic households, according to the decision, a result that couldn’t be fixed through the Census Bureau’s “Non-Response Follow Up” procedures.
“The result will not only be a decrease in the quality of census data — something the Defendants concede — but likely also a net differential undercount,” the decision reads. “That undercount, in turn, will translate into a loss of political power and funds, among other harms, for various Plaintiffs.”
The court also found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which “prohibits federal agencies from acting in a manner that is arbitrary and capricious” or otherwise not in line with the law.
There was “a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut APA violations,” including the fact that Ross’ stated reason to include the question — to enforce the Voting Rights Act — was clearly not the leading reason he moved to include the question, the decision says.
Civil rights organizations cheered the decision while condemning the administration that had sought to include the question.
“The rhetoric, behavior, and policies of this President have caused fear and mistrust of the federal government,” said Masih Fouladi, executive director of CAIR-WA, in a statement.
Advocates feared that including such a question would cause noncitizens and even Hispanic citizens to avoid completing the census. The census, which takes place every 10 years, is critical to the functioning of American democracy because it provides the basis for redistricting — creating legislative districts for representation in state and national legislatures — and divvying up of federal funds among states.
The concept of a citizenship question on the census is not new, just outdated. The Census Bureau used to use a mix of long and short-form questionnaires for the decennial census. Short-form questionnaires had a handful of questions and were sent to the majority of participants. Long-form questionnaires were, unsurprisingly, longer. They included a question on citizenship.
That process was discontinued in 2000 when the bureau introduced the American Community Survey. That annual survey includes a question about citizenship but doesn’t have the impact of the decennial census on government funding and political power.
According to The Seattle Times, roughly 500,000 immigrants live in King County. That represents the third highest increase in foreign-born residents in the United States. Nearly one in four residents was born abroad.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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