A federal judge in New York ruled against the Trump administration on Tuesday in the first of a series of legal battles over whether or not the 2020 United States Census will include a question about citizenship.
In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman wrote that, while the administration's move to include a citizenship question was not in itself unconstitutional, it was "unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons," namely because it went against clear parameters Congress set out for the census. Furman ordered the administration to halt its plans to add the question.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, approved the addition of the question, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" in the 2020 census last year. Ross and the administration contend that adding the question will allow the government to improve its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and prevent people from racial and language minority groups from being discriminated against.
Critics of the decision argue that the addition of the question is itself a form of discrimination against immigrant communities. The Census Bureau's own research indicates that a citizenship question, asked in the midst of a political climate many see as hostile to immigrants, could discourage households with non-citizens from participating in the census, and thus lead to an undercounting of immigrant communities. Opponents of the question contend that this would, in turn, corrupt the integrity of the census, and limit the resources the government makes available to immigrant communities.
In the wake of Ross' decision, a collection of states, cities, and other groups immediately sued the administration. With five lawsuits currently in motion around the country (and the Supreme Court set to weigh in), Tuesday's decision is unlikely to be the last word on the matter. Nonetheless, plaintiffs in the New York case—which include the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, Casa de Maryland, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and ADC Research Institute—celebrated the news.
Below, some of the plaintiffs respond to the court decision.
Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director, Make the Road New York
Our community demands to be counted, and we refuse to be intimidated. The court's ruling reaffirms what we have long known—that Secretary Ross' decision to add a citizenship question was a blatant and illegal attempt to undercount immigrant communities. We will continue to organize to prevent this administration from trying to erase our communities. We will be heard, and we will be counted.
Dale Ho, Director of the Voting Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union
This ruling is a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration's attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities. The evidence at trial, including from the government's own witness, exposed how adding a citizenship question would wreck the once-in-a-decade count of the nation's population. The inevitable result would have been—and the administration's clear intent was—to strip federal resources and political representation from those needing it most.
Steven Choi, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition
[This] decision is a victory for all New Yorkers and immigrants across the country, as Judge Furman rebuked the Trump administration's naked attempt to circumvent the law for its own gain. The Administrative Act cannot be used to rig the census as part of a white supremacist agenda led by Kris Kobach and Steve Bannon. We expect the administration will appeal, but we're ready to fight this battle all the way up to the Supreme Court and win. Immigrants are what truly make America great and we're not going to lose a dime, or our voices to Washington, D.C.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
*Update—January 16th, 2019: This post has been updated to include a statement from Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition regarding the census ruling.