On behalf of a handful of immigrant rights’ groups, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday that it had filed suit against the Trump administration over a new census question that asks respondents about U.S. citizenship.
The lawsuit stems from the Department of Commerce’s March announcement that it would be asking respondents to the 2020 census if they are U.S. citizens—the first time such a question will appear on the questionnaire since the 1950s. In a statement, the federal agency said it was adding the new query at the request of the Department of Justice, which claims it’s needed to glean the voting age of U.S. population and “protect voting rights.”
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross “determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts,” a statement from the agency read.
But the ACLU and its progressive allies have slammed the decision, arguing that it’s a thinly veiled attempt to weaponize the census and target undocumented immigrants. What’s more, the groups argue that the new question is meant to deliberately suppress response rates and weaken the voting power of low-income areas.
The census, which is constitutionally required, determines how many seats each state is allotted in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s also used to distribute federal funding and other community aid programs. If households with high immigrant populations are scared or worried about answering the questionnaire, it will negatively affect both their economic and voting power during elections, groups argued.
“This is an obvious attempt by the administration to drastically diminish the political voice of people of color,” said Samer Khalaf, the president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, in a statement. “The inclusion of the citizenship question will lead to a decline in the census response rate. The resulting impact will have a negative effect on the redistricting process, and the access of minority communities to desperately needed government services and funding.”
Sarah Brannon, a managing attorney with the ACLU, said the case is just the latest in a long line of anti-immigrant policies handed down from the Trump administration.
“President Trump is adding the citizenship question into his toxic stew of racist rants and draconian policies in order to stoke fear,” Brannon remarked.
Casa de Maryland, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, ADC Research Institute, New York Immigration Coalition and Make the Road New York are plaintiffs in the suit, which is one of several census-related cases against the Trump administration winding its way through the courts.
The Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce could not immediately be reached for comment.