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Brief #75—Civil Rights

Policy Summary

Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states “Representatives…shall be apportioned among the several States…according to their respective numbers. The actual Enumeration shall be made…within every subsequent term of ten years.” This constitutional command is the basis for the United States to hold a census to determine the population of all persons residing within the borders of the United States. The last decennial census was held in 2010 and the next one is scheduled for 2020.

In 2017, Wilbur Ross was confirmed as the Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary oversees the Department of Commerce which includes the United States Census Bureau, the agency that oversees every decennial census. In March 2018, Secretary Ross issued a memorandum instructing the Census Bureau to reintroduce a question about United States citizenship status on the 2020 questionnaire. The citizenship question had not appeared on the questionnaire since 1950. In the days after Secretary Ross’s memorandum, multiple lawsuits were filed to challenge the placement of the citizenship status question on the upcoming questionnaire of the 2020 census as well as other procedural issues related to a possible trial on the issue. In the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, multiple cases against the Department of Commerce were consolidated and the case went before Judge Jesse Furman. In a ruling handed down on January 15, 2019, Judge Furman prohibited Secretary Ross’s order to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. LEARN MORE

Judge Furman’s lengthy 277 page ruling explaining his decision to prohibit the citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census questionnaire is not just a rebuke to the Trump Administration’s anti – immigrant rhetoric but to the methods of Secretary Ross and the general chaotic nature of the Trump Administration. Judge Furman thoroughly criticizes Secretary Ross’s methods in trying to push through the addition of the citizenship question. Judge Furman writes that the Secretary “failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices.” What the judge was pointing out was that Secretary Ross had no respect for the laws, rules and procedures already in place and seemed intent instead on pushing through an outcome that he had already predetermined himself – that a question inquiring into a person’s citizenship should be added to the 2020 census questionnaire. Taken in the context of President Trump’s anti – immigrant rhetoric and the Administration’s tendency to blame immigrants for being habitual lawbreakers when they enter the United States, the ruling from Judge Furman highlighted the uncomfortable fact that lawbreakers are not just immigrants but can easily be found in members of President Trump’s own administration.

The ruling does not explicitly rule that the citizenship inquiry on the questionnaire is unconstitutional but it has helped to encourage more debate on whether the United States should ask such a sensitive question especially in light of a President who is currently trying to take a hard – line on immigration issues. The question is seen as a way to suppress new immigrants from participating in the democratic process because immigrants have reason to fear government agents asking too many questions about their legal status. Some persons may simply choose not to fill out any question on the questionnaire at all and might simply just ignore it. This can have a negative effect on the communities where a person lives because an inaccurate count of people living in certain areas can lead to a misallocation of federal funds and resources (safety and health) and lead to errors when drawing state and federal congressional districts. Having the citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire will instead likely deter some people from filling out the form out of fear. A better approach would be to leave the citizenship question off the questionnaire, as this had been the norm in the U.S. since 1950, the last time the citizenship question was even on the national census. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – blog post commenting on court ruling prohibiting census citizenship question.

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund – non – profit group website monitoring census issues as they affect Latino communities.

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) – minority non – profit group’s statement on court ruling prohibiting census citizenship question.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

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Andres Urena

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