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U.S. Court Blocks Question On Citizenship For U.S. Census

The Census Bureau itself recommended against adding a citizenship question, estimating that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the 2020 questionnaire if such a question were included.

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An envelope contains a 2018 census test letter mailed to a resident in Providence, R.I., March 23, 2018. VOA

A federal judge has blocked the Commerce Department from including a question about U.S. citizenship on the 2020 census.

To plaintiffs in the case — a sizable coalition of states, cities and advocates — the question seemed aimed at turning the official population survey into a tool to advance Trump administration policies by discouraging immigrants from participating.

In Tuesday’s ruling, which came after a two-week trial in New York, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said that the decision to add the citizenship question was made before data was collected to show that a change in policy was necessary.

In his 277-page ruling, Furman wrote that the decision was “pretextual” and thus violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

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Migrants traveling with children walk up a hill to a waiting U.S. Border Patrol agent just inside San Ysidro, Calif., after climbing over the border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

Furman said the APA requires federal agencies to study an issue before changing policies, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, “violated the public trust.”

Documented noncitizens

About 11 million people who live in the U.S. are undocumented, but there are also about 13 million documented noncitizens who might fear responding to the census questionnaire if citizenship is included.

“Hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people will go uncounted in the census if the citizenship question is included,” Furman said.

The U.S. census is taken every 10 years and is next scheduled for 2020. It plays a critical role in U.S. politics since the apportionment of House of Representative seats is based on population figures derived from the census and also disbursement of millions in federal funds. In addition, decisions from the location of businesses to the makeup of state and local districts are based on the census.

Plaintiffs argued that noncitizens tend to live in places that disproportionately vote Democratic, so an undercount would likely shift political power and federal spending to Republican areas.

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Immigrants participate in a naturalization ceremony to become U.S. citizens in Los Angeles, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

Furman’s ruling is only the opening salvo on the citizenship question. The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear an aspect of the case in February, hoping to rule before the Census Bureau has to print its questionnaire. In addition, the government is expected to quickly appeal Furman’s ruling.

Reasoned explanation

The U.S. government fought hard to keep the citizenship question out of court. When that failed, government lawyers argued that how Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross reached his decision on the citizenship question was “immaterial.”

“All the secretary is required to do is to provide a reasoned explanation,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett A. Shumate told the court. “He doesn’t have to choose the best option.”

Ross has said that he decided to add citizenship to the census in response to a request from the Justice Department, which said that census data on citizenship would help it better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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Migrants wait in line for food at a camp housing hundreds of people who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

Citizenship was on the questionnaire in censuses before 1960 and is still part of the American Community Survey, which samples about 2.6 percent of the population each year, in order to help local officials and businesses understand what is going on in their communities.

‘Forceful rebuke’

But last January, the Census Bureau itself recommended against adding a citizenship question, estimating that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the 2020 questionnaire if such a question were included.

Also Read: International Immigrants May be Healthier Than Native: Study

“This victory in our case is a forceful rebuke of the administration’s attempts to weaponize the census to attack immigrants and communities of color,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement about the case.

Along with the ACLU, plaintiffs included 18 states, the District of Columbia, several cities and some immigrant rights groups. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. Has A Long To-Do List In Front Of Them

U.S. congressional lawmakers return to work this week with a lengthy agenda of contentious issues and only 41 legislative days left

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The Capitol Hill building is pictured in Washington, Sept. 5, 2019. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet) VOA

U.S. congressional lawmakers return to work this week with a lengthy agenda of contentious issues and only 41 legislative days left in the year to complete it.

Members of the U.S. Senate and House spent the past six weeks vacationing, taking official fact-finding trips and meeting with constituents and financial supporters. They now return to Capitol Hill facing problems that festered in their absence. Arguably the most pressing challenge will be funding the government ahead of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

Here is a list of the problems that will keep lawmakers busy heading into the 2020 presidential and congressional election year.

Budget

Lawmakers have just 13 working days to pass a batch of spending bills before government funding runs out at the end of the current fiscal year Sept. 30.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., smiles after vote on a hard-won budget deal that would permit the government to resume borrowing to pay all of its obligations and would remove the prospect of a government shutdown in October. VOA

Before the summer recess, the Democratic-controlled House passed 10 of the 12 annual appropriations bills to keep government departments and agencies operating and to fund defense and social service programs.

The Senate will immediately begin work on its version of the dozen spending bills.

In the unlikely event that both chambers manage to approve all 12 bills, House members and senators would have to reconcile differences in their bills before sending them to the White House for the president’s signature.

Congress and the president will almost certainly have to agree on one or more short-term funding bills to keep the government open until differences are worked out.

The last thing Republicans and Democrats want to see is a government shutdown heading into a crucial election year.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) “would be no more than 60 days,” meaning that — just as in 2018 — Congress would run into a budget battle at the end of the year.

Gun control

While Congress was out of session, the nation was wracked by three high-profile mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that renewed the call for legislative action on gun control. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer unsuccessfully urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call the Senate back into session in August.

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President Donald Trump speaks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington. VOA

The House Judiciary Committee plans to take action this week by drafting new gun control legislation that would, among other things, ban the sale of high-capacity bullet magazines.

The House passed background check legislation in February that has since languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. In the wake of the mass shootings, Democratic lawmakers called for the passage of “red flag laws” that allow law enforcement officials or family members to petition a court to remove weapons from high-risk individuals.

McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview recently that “If the president is in favor of a number of things that he has discussed openly and publicly, and I know that if we pass it, it’ll become law, I’ll put it on the floor.”

But President Donald Trump has provided little clarity on what kind of gun control legislation he would sign, while seemingly towing the line of the National Rifle Association, which opposes any gun control measures.

Trump initially tweeted, “Guns should not be placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people,” only to criticize red flag laws in a subsequent tweet and warn that gun laws are “a slippery slope” that would lead to the end of the Second Amendment. Without the president’s political cover, Senate Republicans are highly unlikely to brave a risky battle to pass such legislation.

Impeachment

The House is returning to work with the majority of the Democratic caucus either calling for impeachment proceedings to begin or stating publicly the president’s actions are deserving of impeachment. To date, 137 of 235 House Democrats and Congressman Justin Amash — the chamber’s lone independent — support impeachment.

 

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 26, 2019. VOA
 Pelosi has so far resisted the push for impeachment, emphasizing the need to win public support for the effort. A July 30 Quinnipiac University poll found that 32% of voters supported Congress beginning the process of impeaching Trump, with 60% of voters saying it should not begin those proceedings.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler muddled that message over the summer recess by telling CNN in an Aug. 8 interview that Democrats’ efforts to obtain evidence through numerous court filings already constituted “formal impeachment proceedings.”

But Democrats agree that a floor vote on impeachment cannot happen until rulings are handed down in numerous court cases in which Democrats are seeking key documents in the investigations into Trump’s finances and foreign dealings.

In the meantime, the House Judiciary Committee announced plans to investigate allegations Trump violated campaign finance laws by paying “hush money” to cover up affairs with adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

ALSO READ: Russia Accuses Facebook, Google of Election Interference

Additional issues

Lawmakers could also consider ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — a top priority of Trump’s.

In an August “Dear Colleagues” letter, Pelosi said the House working group was in discussion with the Trump administration about the need to include environmental protections, lower prescription drug costs and strong labor standards among other concerns before the agreement could come up for a vote.

The Senate will also vote on a two-part resolution that will allow lawmakers to demand greater oversight over Trump administration arms sales to Saudi Arabia. (VOA)