Tuesday February 19, 2019
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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

Hope in Mexican Border Towns, Migrants Wait In Hope Of Rescue

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route.

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Migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Guatemala wait at bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas for immigration officials to allow them to turn themselves in and ask for asylum in U.S., Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

Migrants have arrived in Tijuana and other border cities in caravans of thousands, while others come in small groups of a dozen or so. They have often walked for days through Central America, then ridden buses or gotten rides on trucks through the vast expanses of Mexico. In border cities like Tijuana, they find help in shelters run by charities.

Asylum seeker Angela Escalante is here with her husband and 7-year-old son.

“The situation is very bad, there are no jobs,” she said of her country of Nicaragua, blaming political violence there on President Daniel Ortega. “There’s no security so you can’t safely walk the streets,” she added.

Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019.
Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

Post-traumatic stress

New arrivals say they also face violence from cartels and local drug gangs.

“It was around 14 years ago they killed the brother of my grandfather and a son of my grandfather, and because of this, they are still pursuing us,” said Jorge Alejandro Valencia, 19, from Michoacan state on Mexico’s western coast. He said the criminals later killed his grandfather, and they now are threatening his sister.

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Survey of Migrants From Mexico. VOA

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route. What we see and what we attend to is mostly situations of high levels of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A 23-year-old Honduran, newly arrived in a shelter, said a gang demanded he sell drugs, and he could see no escape except to leave his country. He asked not be identified, saying that the gangs monitor Facebook and if his identity is revealed, the gang would target his family.

US citizens wait, too

Africans and Haitians, who relocated from their countries to Venezuela, and Central Americans from Central America’s northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, all wait in the city’s shelters. Every case is different, and many are complicated.

A woman from Honduras has a 12-year-old son with U.S. citizenship and displays his passport. The boy, named Jimmy, was born in the United States but returned to Honduras with his mother when she was deported.

A middle-aged man named Efren Galindo was born in Mexico and grew up in Texas. Two years ago, he was deported and nearly killed by Mexican drug cartels, he explained as he displayed scars on his back and shoulder.

“I’ve been 46 years, [nearly] my whole life over there,” Galindo said, pointing northward to the United States. “I’m married to an American citizen. I have four American sons, an American daughter and 16 grand babies,” he added.

Credible fear, big backlog

To be granted asylum, petitioners must demonstrate a credible fear of persecution or torture, and show that they are not only fleeing poverty. Those who have been deported from the United States face added restrictions. Many having been barred from returning for five, 10, 20 years or more.

The U.S. immigration system, meanwhile, is overwhelmed, with a backlog worsened by the recent 35 day partial shutdown of the U.S. government in a dispute between Democrats in Congress and U.S. President Donald Trump over a border wall. U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services said in a statement Jan. 21 that it faced “a crisis-level backlog of 311,000” asylum cases that had yet to be interviewed for credible fear.

The backlog of all immigration court cases was more than 800,000 in November, according researchers at Syracuse University.

Many detention facilities that house illegal entrants are temporary, according to Border Patrol Agent Tekae Michael on the border south of San Diego.

“I know ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is completely overrun,” she said. “We don’t have enough immigration judges to be able to process efficiently and effectively and swiftly.”

Mexico is granting temporary papers to Central Americans, and volunteers from U.S.-based groups like San Diego’s Border Angels bring supplies to the shelters. Mexican businesses are making donations.

Also Read: Mexico to Relocate 120 Central American Migrants

Carlos Yee of the Catholic shelter Casa del Migrante says aid workers like him feel frustrated.

“We don’t have the power to work through this enormous bureaucracy. We only can say to them, be patient,” he said.

The city of San Diego is visible through a border fence, just 30 kilometers north of here, but these migrants in Tijuana face many more hurdles on their journey. Yet, they are still hopeful. (VOA)