As Second Judge Rejects Census Citizenship Question, Trump’s Backup Plan to Count Non-Citizens Exposed

“The administration’s determination to weaponize the Census Bureau is really something.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-7-2019

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated the law when he attempted to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census, a federal judge found Wednesday. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

In the wake of the second legal defeat of President Donald Trump’s plan to count all non-citizens in the 2020 census, new reporting reveals the Census Bureau has been secretly working with Homeland Security officials to develop a new method of sharing immigration status data in order to identify individuals and target communities nationwide.

As the Associated Press reported Thursday, the Census Bureau has been working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for weeks to obtain information about the legal status of millions of immigrants.

The AP‘s report followed the second federal court ruling against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg rejected the administration’s move to include the question, saying Ross did not provide a factual basis for the move and that the secretary broke the law when he ordered his top aides to find a rationale for adding the question to the survey.  

The Commerce Department, Seeborg wrote in his ruling, violated the Administrative Procedures Act by mounting “an effort to concoct a rationale bearing no plausible relation to the real reason, whatever that may be, underlying the decision.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which brought the case to court, applauded the decision on social media.

Immigrant and civil rights groups warn that the inclusion of a citizenship question, which has been left off the census since 1950, would prevent Latinx households from filling out the census amid fears of Trump’s anti-immigration agenda. Critics say an inaccurate census could then result in further under-representation of those communities in Washington.

“Judge Seeborg found incontrovertible evidence that the addition of the citizenship question would drive down participation by non-citizens in the 2020 Census,” Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement. “This is reprehensible, undemocratic, and in defiance of the goal of the census as outlined in the United States Constitution. The attempt to add of the citizenship question to the 2020 census is underhanded politics at its very worst.”

Seeborg’s decision came two months after a federal judge in New York issued a similar ruling. The Supreme Court is considering both lower courts’ rulings and is expected to hand down its own assessment by June.

But, as AP reported, the Trump administration began exploring how the Census Bureau could obtain citizenship information as the New York court’s ruling was announced.

The bureau and DHS began collaborating in January on their pending agreement, under which DHS would share share noncitizens’ full names, addresses, birth dates and places, Social Security numbers, and alien registration numbers.

“What’s going on here is they are trying to circumvent the need for a citizenship question by using data collected by another agency for a different purpose,” Jeramie Scott, an attorney at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told AP.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) said he planned to question Ross about the plan when the commerce secretary testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform next week.

“The news of this proposed plan will surely send shockwaves through immigrant communities across the country,” Gomez told the AP. “This new development raises even more questions about the motivations behind this untested citizenship question and Secretary Ross better be ready to answer them.”

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