A citizenship question

Another xenophobic action from the Trump administration:

The 2020 census will ask respondents whether they are United States citizens, the Commerce Department announced Monday night, agreeing to a Trump administration request with highly charged political and social implications that many officials feared would result in a substantial undercount.

In a statement released Monday, the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had “determined that reinstatement of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire is necessary to provide complete and accurate census block level data,” allowing the department to accurately measure the portion of the population eligible to vote.

But his decision immediately invited a legal challenge: Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, plans to sue the Trump administration over the decision, a spokeswoman for Mr. Becerra said late Monday.

At the top there’s an update to that:

Multiple states say they will be taking legal action against the Trump administration’s decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census.

New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, plans to lead a multi-state lawsuit against the move, a spokeswoman for Mr. Schneiderman said Tuesday. Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, filed a separate lawsuit over the decision late Monday night, a spokeswoman for Mr. Becerra confirmed.

This is at a time when Trump and his fans have been stoking a hideous xenophobic racist panic about immigration, so a pointed question about citizenship is highly likely to motivate a lot of people not to fill out the census at all.

That would result in a severe undercount of the population — and, in turn, faulty data for government agencies and outside groups that rely on the census. The effects would also bleed into the redistricting of the House and state legislatures in the next decade.

And that’s not an accident or a byproduct, it’s the goal.

Ari Berman, who wrote the book on voter suppression, has more:

The Justice Department requested the citizenship question in December, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wrote in a letter on Monday that it was needed for “more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act. (The Commerce Department oversees the Census Bureau.)

But Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama and is now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, told me, “Voting rights enforcement has never depended on having that question on the [census] form since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. That’s plainly a ruse to collect that data and ultimately to sabotage the census.” The citizenship question, she noted, is already asked on the longer American Community Survey, which reaches roughly 13 percent of American households and is used to enforce civil rights laws.

The census, unlike the American Community Survey, determines how many congressional seats and electoral votes states receive, how voting districts are drawn, and how $675 billion in federal funding is allocated to states and localities. The 2010 census failed to count 1.5 million people of color, including 1.5 percent of Hispanics, 2.1 percent of African Americans, and 4.9 percent of Native Americans. If immigrant communities don’t respond to the census for fear that it will be used to initiate deportation proceedings against them, the undercount of Latinos could grow much higher. That would deny federal resources and representation to areas with large Latino populations and shift economic and political power to whiter and more Republican areas. Internal focus groups conducted by the Census Bureau last year found that when it came to responding to the census, “fears, particularly among immigrant respondents, have increased markedly” under the Trump administration.

So, this is bad; bad bad bad.

In January and February, I interviewed Latino immigrants in five towns and cities in California’s Central Valley, around the Fresno area, for a forthcoming Mother Jones feature about the census. When I asked them whether they’d respond to the census if it included a question about citizenship, virtually all of them said no.

“I wouldn’t answer the form if that question is on,” said Ana, a farmworker and mother of three from Parlier, California, which is home to many migrant farmworkers. “The word ‘citizen’ scares us. There’s a lot of tension in the country right now.” At a community meeting in nearby Huron, California, another Latino immigrant named Erica told me, “Once they see that question, forget it. People will throw the form away.”

And Republicans will jump up and down for joy.

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