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Federal judge blocks citizenship question from 2020 Census

01/17/2019 12:00 PM |

A federal judge in New York has blocked the Trump administration from inquiring about citizenship on the 2020 Census.

Last March, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the decision, claiming the data was requested by the Justice Department in order to protect voters from discrimination.

The announcement sparked fear among the immigrant population and raised concerns over the possibility of skewed results that could have jeopardized federal funding to states.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled against allowing the question on the upcoming census. His ruling found that the question would result in a net undercount that “will translate into a loss of political power and funds, among other harms.”

The ruling may potentially reach the Supreme Court before the start of the 2020 Census.

Last spring, New York was one of 18 states who, along with the District of Columbia, sued the U.S. Commerce Department over the plan to include the question.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrated the decision during his State of the State address Tuesday. “Let’s go out there and count every New Yorker so we get what we deserve in the state of New York,” he said, congratulating newly-elected Attorney General Letitia James.

“[Tuesday’s] ruling is a win for New Yorkers and Americans across the country who believe in a fair and accurate count of the residents of our nation,” she said in a statement. “Inciting fear in our residents is not only immoral, but also ill-conceived. Accurate population counts are imperative for allocating funding for critical programs and support systems and for determining fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College.”

In a 277-page opinion, Judge Furman scrutinized Secretary Ross’s decision to include the citizenship question.

“[Secretary Ross] 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 — a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut [Administrative Procedure Act] violations,” he wrote.

Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA of Eastern Long Island, a nonprofit that aims to promote development within local Latino and Hispanic communities, noted last year that the organization was aware of “drastic retrenching and self-isolation,” among Latino community members, who already feel more vulnerable in the current political climate.

“For far too long we have seen the effects of living in the shadows. It doesn’t work,” Ms. Perez wrote in an email Wednesday. “Being counted, existing, known is the best way forward. This is not just about services but having an understanding of who is contributing to your community. The amount of money in property taxes, sales tax and often federal tax that comes in from non citizens is a number that every town and county and state should be sharing with its constituents. Accurate data should never be feared or obstructed.”

The census, conducted every 10 years, is a population count that collects demographic information, but also data used to allocate representatives, political districts and federal funding to the states.

The last time a question on citizenship was included in a national census was 1950, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to Judge Furman’s decision, the question was excluded in 1960 because “it would depress the count for already “hard-to-count” groups — particularly noncitizens and Hispanics — whose members would be less likely to participate in the census for fear that the data could be used against them or their loved ones.”

He said decisions about the census should not be taken lightly.

“The Court’s Opinion is, to put it mildly, long. But that is for good reasons. For one thing, the Court has taken care to thoroughly examine every issue because the integrity of the census is a matter of national importance. As noted, the population count has massive and lasting consequences. And it occurs only once a decade, with no possibility of a do-over if it turns out to be flawed.”

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