Citizenship Question would Depress Turnout and Result in Inaccurate Count
HARRISBURG — Today, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and a coalition of 17 other Attorneys General, six cities, and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors filed a lawsuit to block the Trump Administration from demanding citizenship information in the 2020 decennial Census.
Including the citizenship question, which was removed from the Census in 1960, would depress participation in states with large immigrant populations. This directly threatens those states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funding for education, infrastructure, Medicaid, and more.
“At first glance, this move by the Trump Administration might seem innocuous, but evidence has shown the addition of a citizenship question will depress turnout – resulting in an inaccurate Census count that would hurt Pennsylvania,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “The United States Constitution requires a full count of all residents, whether they are citizens or not. It’s vital that the 2020 Census be conducted fairly, accurately and in accordance with the law so Pennsylvania receives the representation and federal resources we deserve.”
Pennsylvania is home to 870,000 non-citizens (3.3 percent of total population) with the highest percentage residing in Avondale in Chester County, where non-citizens make up 36.5 percent of the population. In Philadelphia, non-citizens pay approximately $6 billion in taxes each year and immigrant-owned businesses contribute significantly to Main Street business growth.
“Immigrants – both naturalized citizens and legal residents – are key members of our communities. They open new businesses, create job opportunities and generate tax revenue,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “All people residing in Pennsylvania, including students, those with work visas, and people with green cards, must be included in our population count in order to ensure Pennsylvania gets our fair share of federal resources.”
Non-citizens are counted in the Census for the purposes of distributing federal funds, apportioning congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and drawing state and local legislative districts. According to the Census Bureau, there are 132 federal programs, including Medicaid, Child Care Development Grants, the Highway Trust Fund, and other Department of Transportation grants, through which resources are allocated by Census data – totaling $675 billion per year.
The decennial census is also used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, with each plaintiff state relying on population information from the Census Bureau to draw statewide redistricting plans for their Congressional and state legislative districts. In 1933, Pennsylvania had 36 House seats; today it has just 18. The Commonwealth could lose more seats if the Census fails to count all citizens and non-citizens.
On December 12, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau demand citizenship information in the 2020 Census form sent to every household in the United States, even though the Census is supposed to count all persons—citizens and non-citizens alike. Citizenship data is already collected annually using the American Communities Survey, which is conducted by the Census Bureau in non-Census years.
As a coalition of Attorneys General argued in a letter sent to the Commerce Secretary in February 2018, the citizenship demand would drive down participation in immigrant communities. As the Census Bureau’s own research shows, the question will “inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count” by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities, because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information.
In 2009, all eight former Directors of the Census Bureau dating back to 1979 – who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents – affirmed that a citizenship question would depress participation and lead to a significant undercount, undermining the purpose of the Census itself.
“I share the concerns of these former Census Directors – who served under presidents from both parties,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Many immigrant residents fear that if they give this information to the federal government, they will be deported – even if they have legal status. Adding this untested question at the last minute will depress participation and result in an inaccurate Census.”
The lawsuit filed today is brought under the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as this action by the Trump administration will impede an “actual Enumeration” required by the Constitution. It is also brought under the Administrative Procedure Act, which permits courts to set aside unlawful or arbitrary and capricious agency decisions.
As the lawsuit describes, the Administration’s decision is inconsistent with the Census Bureau’s constitutional and statutory obligations, is unsupported by the stated justification, departs from decades of settled practice without reasoned explanation, and fails to consider the availability of alternative data that can effectively serve the federal government’s needs. The lawsuit also emphasizes the irreparable harm that will result from inaccuracies in the 2020 Census caused by demanding citizenship information.
In addition to Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro, the lawsuit, which was filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was joined by the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia; the cities of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle; and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
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