Hours after the Trump administration announced that the 2020 U.S. Census would include a question about citizenship status, Democrats vowed to fight it, saying that the query will scare away respondents who fear immigration enforcement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the Commerce Department's decision a "clear" violation of the "constitutional mandate to provide an accurate count of all people living in the United States."
"This detrimental change will inject fear and distrust into vulnerable communities, and cause traditionally undercounted communities to be even further under-represented, financially excluded and left behind," she added.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the addition of a citizenship question a "direct attack on our representative democracy," and promised to sue. Meanwhile, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday morning that he'd filed the lawsuit he promised Monday night.
"California simply has too much to lose for us to allow his Administration to botch this obligation!" Becerra tweeted.
The Census is supposed to count all residents — both citizens and noncitizens, legal or otherwise. The population counts from the Census affects everything from federal funding to how many of the House of Representatives' 435 seats are allocated to each state. Undercounted immigrant communities could cause states with high immigrant populations to lose seats and funding, potentially shifting political power toward more rural, historically conservative areas.
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Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, argued the question is being reinstated at the Justice Department's request to help them enforce the section of the Voting Rights Act that bars discrimination against minority groups.
"We've heard from people on all sides of the equation. We've done elaborate analyses within the census department, and we've concluded that the benefits to the Voting Rights Act enforcement of asking the question outweighs these other issues," he said on Fox News on Tuesday.
Holder, now the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee who is leading a nationwide effort to help Democrats redistrict more effectively after the 2020 Census, argued that "data derived from the existing census process was perfectly adequate for any voting litigation that arose" when he was the attorney general.
Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a joint statement that they had previously encouraged the Commerce Department to add such a question, and applauded the decision.
"Accurate census data that reflects the total number of U.S. citizens is a vital part of our democracy," the Oklahoma Republican said. "Without it, we can't responsibly ensure equal representation for states in the House of Representatives or assess voter participation. I applaud the Census Bureau for adding this common-sense question."
The Census is enshrined in the Constitution, with founding fathers calling for an "enumeration" every ten years of its residents, including both citizens and slaves, "in such manner as they shall by law direct."