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Seattle and Washington State join lawsuit over census citizenship question

One question could jeopardize representation for thousands of locals

Bob Ferguson announces an earlier lawsuit—one concerning Trump’s travel ban—in February 2017.
Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Update, April 3: A lawsuit was filed today over a decision from the U.S. Commerce Department to add a question about citizenship status to the U.S. Census—and both Seattle and Washington State are on board.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the state’s involvement last week. Today, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced Seattle’s involvement.

The coalition, which has grown to include 18 attorneys general, six cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, argues that the question violates the enumeration clause of the United States Constitution.

“In the last decade, Seattle’s population has skyrocketed, which is why it’s critical the upcoming Census provides accurate and fair representation,” said Durkan in a statement. “Without an accurate count, Seattle could lose billions of dollars of federal investments in housing, schools, and hospitals, and other critical federal resources.”

Original article, March 28:

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is currently approaching lawsuit No. 23 against the Trump administration. This time, it’s over a decision from the U.S. Commerce Department to add citizenship status as a question on the U.S. Census.

Adding that question is a big deal with major implications for the accuracy of census data—and, in turn, for how that data is used to implement culturally competent programs. As our Vox colleague Dara Lind explained:

It’s not just a symbolic issue. Critics are seriously concerned that adding a single citizenship question to the 2020 census could scare away millions of immigrants from filling out their mandatory surveys — throwing off the count of who’s present in America that’s used to determine congressional apportionment for the next decade, allocate federal funding for infrastructure, and serve as the basis for huge amounts of American research.

It didn’t take long for a group of at least 14 states, led by California Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, to launch a lawsuit challenging the question.

As of 2014, around 250,000 undocumented immigrants were living in Washington State, according to data from the Pew Research Center—meaning an inaccurate count, especially among extremely visible deportation cases, could seriously throw the data.

“The Census Bureau’s own research reveals asking people about their citizenship status could significantly undermine its Constitutional mandate: an accurate count of everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status,” explained Ferguson in a statement announcing the suit. “If Washington state’s large immigrant population isn’t accurately counted, the impact on our Congressional representation and billions of dollars in federal funds our state receives could be jeopardized.”

The current administration has been keeping Ferguson busy, with current lawsuits including a multi-state effort to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and another alleging Motel 6 shared local guest information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Ferguson isn’t the only local leader to speak out against the census question. All nine members of the Seattle City Council signed onto a letter written by City Councilor Teresa Mosqueda expressing concerns about the citizenship question, demanding full funding for the 2020 census, and requesting that LGBTQ demographic data be included.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement of support that “it’s clear this administration is trying to sabotage a critical tool for making informed policy decisions and ensuring fair representation.”

“The census is intended to count people, plain and simple,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in his own statement. “Any administration move intended to frighten some residents—citizens or not—into avoiding being counted is damaging to the long-term accuracy of the decennial count, and to our democracy.”

In a recent article posted to Medium, Washington State Senator Pramila Jayapal and former governor Gary Locke also expressed concern over adding the citizenship question back to the census, underscoring the national implications of not counting everyone in our local communities:

Census statistics inform large-scale government allocation of funds for education, health care and other programs. These numbers even help determine representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The decennial census has been an American institution since 1790, and it depends entirely on the willingness of people nationwide to participate openly and honestly.