SAN FRANCISCO, April 3, 2018 — City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced today that San Francisco, as part of a coalition of state and local governments, has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its plans to undermine the accuracy of the 2020 U.S. census.
The lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks to prevent the Census Bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, from including an untested question about citizenship status in the 2020 U.S. census. The Census Bureau has previously argued in court that including such a question will “inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count” by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities fearful of how the federal government will use citizenship information.
Depressing census participation in cities and states with large immigrant populations directly threatens those locations’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College. It also threatens billions of dollars in critical federal funds for education, infrastructure, Medicaid and more.
The Constitution requires a national count every 10 years to determine the “whole number of persons” in the United States. “It is one of the most critical constitutional functions our federal government performs,” Congress found in 1997. The census is used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives, determine the number of electors to the Electoral College, draw state and local electoral districts, and distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grant funds to states, local governments and other grantees. Federal researchers found that in fiscal year 2015 more than 130 programs used Census Bureau data to distribute more than $675 billion in funds for things like Medicaid, transportation projects, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the National School Lunch Program.
“Low-income families across the country rely on an accurate census for federal assistance,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said. “Those numbers determine how much federal funding San Francisco receives to help residents get food, health care and housing. The Trump administration is playing politics with people’s lives. This is the latest front in their cynical war on immigrants, and they’re indifferent to the collateral damage they would cause. Hard-working families looking for a hand up would be kicked to the curb by an administration trying to twist the numbers for political advantage. We are going to stand up for all San Franciscans, no matter their immigration status or the size of their wallet.”
The last time a citizenship question appeared on the U.S. census was 1950. Since at least 1980, the Census Bureau, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has taken the position that inquiries about citizenship on the census would jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count.
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Under both President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and President George H.W. Bush in 1989, the Census Bureau repeated those concerns in congressional testimony. The bureau testified that inquiring into immigration status “could seriously jeopardize the accuracy of the census,” because people “who are undocumented immigrants may either avoid the census altogether or deliberately misreport themselves as legal residents,” and legal residents “may misunderstand or mistrust the census and fail or refuse to respond.” In 2009, all eight former Census Bureau directors dating back to 1979 objected to adding an immigration status question to the 2010 census, saying they were concerned about “consequences for participation among all immigrants, regardless of their legal status.”
Adding a citizenship question to the census will result in an undercount of the population in cities with large immigrant communities, like San Francisco. Immigrants account for 35 percent of San Francisco’s population, as compared to 13 percent of the population nationwide.
About the Case
The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, was brought after Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Jr. transmitted a report to Congress on March 29, 2018, advising Congress of the questions to be included on the 2020 Census. This report includes, for the first time since 1950, an inquiry into the citizenship status of every person in the country.
The lawsuit names the U.S. Department of Commerce, Secretary Ross, the Census Bureau, and its acting director, Ron Jarmin.
It alleges that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census violates the constitutional mandate to conduct an “actual enumeration,” or count, of the population and violates the Administrative Procedure Act; and is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion under that act. The lawsuit seeks a court order preventing the citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census.
The lawsuit was brought by the cities of San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Providence, Philadelphia and Seattle; the states of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington; the District of Columbia; and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The case is: State of New York et al. v. U.S. Department of Commerce et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York case No. 1:18-cv-02921, filed April 3, 2018. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: sfcityattorney.org.