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States, Cities Push Back on Census Citizenship Question

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WASHINGTON - Seventeen states, seven major U.S. cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors filed a lawsuit this week in an effort to remove a controversial question - "Are you a U.S. citizen?" - from the 2020 Census.

The suit against the U.S. Department of Commerce and Census Bureau argues that the question will make it impossible to fulfill the Constitution's mandate that all people, regardless of citizenship status, be counted. John Yang, executive director with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, says getting the count right is important because the data is used to carve out congressional seats and allocate more than $800 billion in federal funding for hospitals, schools and other services. "So the Census really is a cornerstone of so many different facets of our civic life that to get an accurate count is critical to understanding who we are as an American people," says Yang.

The Trump administration claims the citizenship question is necessary in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Yang says the question has not been on the Census since 1950, and notes that two years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Census process was sound as is.

Amanda Gonzalez with Colorado Common Cause says questions usually undergo ten years of rigorous testing before they're added to the Census, a process not undertaken with the citizenship question. She warns that in the current political climate, the move could dramatically reduce the number of people willing to participate, which would result in an undercount. "Because this administration has not always been friendly to immigrants and people of color, we don't know that they're going to feel comfortable responding to this question, and that could result in those folks not being counted," says Gonzalez.

Yang notes that more than 90 percent of the Asian-American community in the U.S. are immigrants or children of immigrants, and says questions about immigration status typically prompt suspicion and fear. Still, he says he hopes all communities will participate in the once-in-a-decade survey mandated by law. "Just as importantly, we need to be counted to make sure that all of these different communities get the resources that they need. If they are not counted, then they do become more invisible," he says.

Yang adds that using untested questions could also end up costing taxpayers. He says if questionnaires aren't returned, the Census Bureau is required to send a flyer, and then a person to the residence in order to get a physical count. According to the bureau's own accounting, every percentage point of people not counted ends up costing an extra $55 million.

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