Federal Judge Blocks Request for Citizenship Question in 2020 Census

Last week, a federal judge blocked the Commerce Department from putting a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. The decision will ripple through federal policy and politics at all levels: the upcoming census will determine which states will gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives in 2021. The 14th Amendment requires the House's numbers to be determined by the "whole number of persons in each state." The Supreme Court has ruled that this number includes noncitizens.

The DOJ reportedly sent a letter to Ross' department saying the reason for the citizenship question was to help the DOJ determine if the racial or ethnic composition of political districts met the mandates of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, during the hearing, a senior civil rights official admitted that census data was not necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Data from the American Community Survey had been their source for 50 years without problems.

The Census Bureau had even recommended against a citizenship question. Last January, their estimate was that 630,000 households would refuse to participate if that question was included. Hispanic residents and other residents of foreign descent might also refuse the census out of fear.

The Ugly Politics of the Citizenship Question

Critics said adding a citizenship question would give Republicans an opportunity to undercount noncitizens and legal immigrants, who often live in Democratic-leaning states. This would shift power to Republican states. The lawyers for the Commerce Department pointed to the DOJ letter as well as to the Secretary's broad powers to use whatever reasonable solutions he wanted to use.

However, Judge Jesse M. Furman of the U.S. district court in Manhattan accused the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., of breaking a "veritable smorgasbord" of federal rules. He also criticized Ross and his aides for giving misleading statements under oath. Judge Furman noted that Mr. Ross wanted to add a citizenship question to the census as early as February 2017, sitting on the request for over a year and thus preventing the ramifications of the question to be fully studied.

Internal documents showed:

  • Ross met with Stephen Bannon, White House strategist
  • Ross met with Kris Kobach, a far-right opponent of immigration
  • DOJ officials had not initiated a request for a citizenship question
  • The DOJ actually rejected a request from the Commerce Dept. to do so in summer 2017

Judge Furman said that the goal of the Justice Department letter was to provide cover for a decision they'd already made.

According to the NY Times, 24 million noncitizens live in the United States, but 11 million do so either as undocumented or on overstayed visas. Studies show that nearly half of 'illegal' immigrants arrived legally and overstayed their visas. The most common of these noncitizens are students and exchange visitors, and the largest group of them (by far) are from Canada.

If you're wondering how the current political landscape might affect your chances of becoming a legal permanent resident (or any other kind of visa-holder), then speak with our New Jersey immigration lawyer today. Call (800) 909-8129 or contact us online today. Se Habla Español.