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17 states sue to block citizenship question on 2020 census

Attorneys general and civil rights group said the question is an attempt to weaponize the census to punish blue states and stoke fear among immigrants.

A coalition of 17 states, Washington, D.C., and six cities announced Tuesday that they are suing to block the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census.

The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, argues that the question will depress responses in states with large immigrant populations. This would cause the census to run afoul of the "constitutional requirement" that the government fairly and accurately count all people in the country, Schneiderman said at a news conference announcing the suit.

Schneiderman also noted that adding the question would stoke fear among immigrants, leading to an inaccurate population count that would threaten congressional seats and disrupt how billions of dollars in federal funds are allocated, particularly in blue states like New York, which has the third-largest immigrant population in the country after California and Texas.

"This is really just an effort to punish places like New York that welcome immigrants, that are accommodating to immigrants and embrace the American tradition of open arms for all," Schneiderman said. "We stand to lose money because this determines congressional representation and the Electoral College. This is an affront to our national ideals and this is an affront to the constitution."

The Trump administration announced in late March that it planned to add a question about citizenship status to the next decennial census, which is in 2020. The administration has argued that the question is critical to "help enforce" the section of the Voting Rights Act that protects minority voting rights.

The plan would mark the first time such a question would be included on the short-form census since 1950. According to the latest data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which is conducted yearly and does include a citizenship question, there were 22.5 million noncitizens in the United States in 2016. That’s about 7 percent of the total 323 million U.S. residents.

ACS data does not determine congressional seats.

Civil rights groups have raised serious concerns about adding the question, arguing that it would dilute the political power of minority communities, among other concerns. California and the NAACP also announced separate lawsuits against the administration in March over the addition of the question.

"The idea that someone from the Trump administration knocks on your door and asks about your citizenship will provoke a real fear," Schneiderman said.

The attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington have joined Schneiderman's suit along with the District of Columbia and six cities: New York, Seattle, Providence, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. The bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors also joined.

Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called the Trump administration's move a "brazen attempt ... to cheat on the census" and "to attack states that have large immigrant populations."

"This is an attempt to steal congressional seats from those states, to steal electoral votes from those states and move them to more congenial states likely to vote Republican," he added.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., called the move "a blatant, racist attempt to make America white."