Attorney General Hector Balderas says a controversial new question about citizenship on the U.S. Census questionnaire is illegal. Balderas joined a coalition of state attorneys general who filed a lawsuit to stop it. The attorneys general, led by New York AG Eric Schneiderman, along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors sued in federal court today, saying the question would result in an illegal undercount of the population. The fear is that the question would cause an undercounting of those that fear the federal government would use the information to arrest or even deport non-citizens. The coalition argues the U.S. Constitution calls a count to determine “the whole number of persons in each state”—and has nothing to do with a person’s legal status.
In December, the Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau add a question to the 2020 survey that would ask respondents to reveal whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Since ProPublica first reported the DOJ’s letter, civil rights groups and congressional Democrats have announced their opposition, arguing that in the midst of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, the question will lead many people to opt out of the census, resulting in an inaccurate population count. A lot is at stake. The once-a-decade population count determines how House seats are distributed and helps determine where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent. But one question regarding the December letter remained unclear.
Amid fears that a lack of money will prevent an accurate count, states are gearing up to identify the people the 2020 U.S. Census is most likely to miss, from trailer-park residents in New York to people living in shantytowns in New Mexico. Residents of isolated rural areas, immigrants, and people who just don’t trust the government are among those who tend to be undercounted in the decennial census. The apportionment of U.S. House seats and nearly $590 billion in annual federal funding depend on the count, so state and local officials have a keen interest in making sure their residents don’t fall through the cracks. This story originally appeared at Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. The current task for state and local officials is to verify the Census Bureau’s residential address list: Starting in February, the bureau will turn over address lists to states and local governments for double-checking that must be finished within 120 days.