Asian American Civil Rights Groups Celebrate SCOTUS Ruling on Citizenship Question

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The Supreme Court held on June 27 that the Census Bureau’s purported reason for adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census was false.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus (Advancing Justice-ALC) celebrated the decision while anticipating future battles over the fate of the citizenship question.

“We applaud today’s recognition that the Census Bureau was untruthful in its rationale for adding the untested and unnecessary question,” said An Le, 2020 Census statewide network manager at Advancing Justice-LA. “Today’s decision affirms that we all matter. Our communities cannot be erased — we are here to be counted.”

The prospect of the citizenship question continues to raise fear among immigrant communities. If the Trump Administration continues to fight for a citizenship question, it will have to put forward a revised explanation for including it in a lower court in New York. It is unclear if the Census Bureau’s timeline for printing census questionnaires will permit that.

Despite strong confidentiality protections for census responses that ensure a household’s census form cannot be handed over to immigration authorities or any other government agency, the ongoing dispute over a citizenship question contributes to fear of the census among immigrant communities and will ultimately lead to lower response rates and inaccurate census data, according to Advancing Justice-LA.

The census happens once every ten years and is one of the few opportunities for the government to obtain an accurate count of all communities. Census data determines how federal funding is allocated yearly to infrastructure, education, and programs like SNAP. They are also key indicators in determining how many congressional seats each state gets and help determine the drawing of political district lines. For these reasons, a fair and accurate census is critical.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court saw through the Trump Administration’s claim that the citizenship question was added to promote voting rights. It was actually designed to intimidate and discriminate against communities of color,” said Julia Marks, voting rights staff attorney at Advancing Justice-ALC in San Francisco. “It’s up to us to continue to fight against future efforts to include a citizenship question and to ensure that we, our friends, our families, and communities participate in the census and get counted.”

Both Advancing Justice-LA and Advancing Justice-ALC are committed to getting out the count for 2020. They members of Census Counts, a diverse nationwide coalition dedicated to ensuring all historically undercounted communities are included in the census and are leading a statewide network of Asian and Pacific Islander organizations in California to ensure that every person in our community is counted.

Case Background

A coalition led by the State of New York that included six cities, 17 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Conference of Mayors took the Trump Administration to court on April 3, 2018 to prevent the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 census. Later, four other cities, four counties and another state joined the coalition. A number of nonprofits also sued the administration over the same issue.

Since at least 1980, the Census Bureau, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has taken the position that inquiries about citizenship on the census would jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count, including undercounting legal immigrants.

The census is used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives, determine the number of electors to the Electoral College, draw state and local electoral districts, and distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grant funds to states, local governments and other grantees. Federal researchers found that in fiscal year 2015 more than 130 programs used Census Bureau data to distribute more than $675 billion in funds for things like Medicaid, transportation projects, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the National School Lunch Program.

On Jan. 15, a federal judge in New York ruled against the Trump Administration’s decision, blocking it from adding the citizenship question. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on April 23.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the cities of San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Providence, Philadelphia, Seattle, Phoenix, Central Falls, Columbus and Pittsburgh; counties of Cameron, El Paso, Hidalgo and Monterey; the states of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington; the District of Columbia; and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The case is State of New York et al. v. U.S. Department of Commerce et al.

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