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Liberal groups register opposition to citizenship question for 2020 Census

August 7, 2018

Liberal groups have come out in force against a proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census, as the period for public comment on the controversial addition draws to a close Tuesday night.

The National Urban League called the citizenship question “untested, unjust, and unconstitutional” while the American Civil Liberties Union called it “a deliberate attempt by President Trump to once again attack immigrants.”

Groups predicted immigrants and minorities would be discouraged from participating in the decennial survey, leading to undercounts on data that’s used to parcel out seats in Congress, and hundreds of billions of dollars federal assistance.

“There is one constitutional purpose for the decennial census: to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote to the Bureau in comments submitted Aug. 1. “To realize the Constitution’s ‘principle of representational equality,’ the overarching goal of the decennial census must be an accurate count of all persons residing in the country. Any element of the census design and plan that might undermine or detract from the Census Bureau’s ability to achieve that goal simply cannot stand.”

The Commerce Department, which administers the census, created a two-month comment period for the public to weigh in on the Trump administration’s approach to the upcoming count.

While the citizenship question is just one of a host of issues being asked, it drew most of the attention from activists.

It remained unclear Tuesday just how many such comments the Census Bureau had received on the question, and it declined to provide estimates. The comment period ends Tuesday night, and the comments will be made public at a later unspecified date, according to the Bureau.

A question about citizenship was included on the census up to 1950, and it remains on a shorter form the Bureau sends to a smaller sample of households each year. A federal judge ruled last month the question was legal, but voiced concern about how the Trump administration went about including it and thus allowed a legal challenge against its reintroduction to continue.

Census Bureau officials have been at pains to tell people they will be counted whether the answer the citizenship question or not. While it is illegal to not answer questions on the form, no one has been prosecuted for such a violation for more than half a century.

But the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in its comment, warned “the addition of a citizenship question only serves to instill fear among immigrant communities, decrease participation, and negatively impact the outcome and accuracy of the 2020 Census.”

Other groups, such as the conservative Public Interest Legal Foundation, have spoken out in support of returning the question.

“The Trump Administration’s decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census is the right decision,” PILF President J. Christian Adams testified before Congress in June.

Mr. Adams, a former federal prosecutor, argued the information gleaned will not only “enhance enforcement of civil rights laws,” by giving the Justice Department more precise data, and further that “returning the citizenship question to the Census also will potentially aid African-American communities who have suffered and lost political representation when legislative line drawers do not have precise and robust citizenship data.”

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