Conecta Abogados / Flickr Avanza el peso tras declaraciones de...
Conecta Abogados / Flickr

The Commerce Department on Monday announced Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census, per the Justice Department’s request. The citizenship question would affect immigrants’ response rates, which will affect the data that determines everything from funding to federal representation for their communities.

Almost immediately, California filed suit against the Trump administration, arguing that the citizenship question violates the government’s duty to conduct an “actual enumeration” of the total population. The census has included both citizens and non-citizens since 1790. The citizenship question hasn’t appeared on the census since the 1950s.

Hours later, former Attorney General Eric Holder, who leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, announced that NRDC will also fight the census question.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla published an op-ed explaining the citizenship question’s likely effects on Californians.

This request is an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes. Since the first day of his presidential campaign and through his first year in office, President Trump has targeted immigrants: vilifying them and attempting to exclude them from the country. Think travel bans, repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, ramped up Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that tear parents away from their children. Immigrants and their loved ones understandably are, and will be, concerned about how data collected in the 2020 Census will be used.

California, with its large immigrant communities, would be disproportionately harmed by depressed participation in the 2020 census. An undercount would threaten at least one of California’s seats in the House of Representatives (and, by extension, an elector in the electoral college.) It would deprive California and its cities and counties of their fair share of billions of dollars in federal funds.

This legal battle has been months in the making.

Last fall, Trump tried to make an end run around Congress to put Thomas Brunell, a notorious gerrymanderer, in charge of the decennial census. Brunell only withdrew from consideration in February after significant high-level criticism. Unfortunately, his withdrawal only relieved one threat to the integrity of the Census Bureau; serious structural and financial problems remain.

Even with Brunell’s withdrawal, the Census Bureau is facing a slew of other problems as it prepares for the 2020 census. It has no permanent director, its funding has been cut, field tests have been canceled, and it is unveiling a controversial new IT system for 2020. The Government Accountability Office now calls it a “high risk” program.

A weak Census Bureau plus an anti-immigrant citizenship question spell disaster. After the 2010 Census, Republicans went on a gerrymandering spree. If they manage to rig this one as Ross intends, there’s no telling how bad the 2020 fallout will be.

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