Census Citizenship Question under Fire

Press Releases

June 14, 2018

IRLI defends Dept. of Commerce move to ask about citizenship

WASHINGTON — On Monday, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in support of the Department of Commerce, which oversees the U.S. census. The State of New York and a long list of other states and cities are suing to block the Department from implementing its plan to ask census responders whether or not they are U.S. citizens. IRLI represents the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in its brief before the court.

A question about citizenship was part of the census for decades, until the Obama administration stopped asking it. Yet New York and the other plaintiffs argue that asking about citizenship again now will make illegal aliens less likely to fill out census forms, and thus result in an unlawful “undercount.” Plaintiff states and cities (most of them sanctuary jurisdictions) further claim that the undercount of illegal aliens will cause these jurisdictions to lose federal grant money.

In its brief for FAIR, IRLI argues that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs’ claim that the citizenship question will cause inaccuracy is based on speculation, and because the plaintiffs neglect even to claim that existing census procedures for correcting inaccuracies would prove inadequate. IRLI also shows that one of the plaintiffs’ claims – that the citizenship question would violate the Information Quality Act – should be thrown out because federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear claims under that law, as the very court hearing this case found in an earlier case. No other party in this case has brought up this jurisdictional problem.

An issue lurking behind this case, but not raised by the Department of Commerce or the other federal defendants, is whether it is appropriate to include illegal aliens in the census in the first place, especially since census numbers are used to distribute House of Representatives seats and electoral votes among the states.

“Counting illegal aliens in the census only gives sanctuary jurisdictions a windfall of federal dollars and enhanced representation in Washington, and also a perverse incentive to ramp up their sanctuary policies to get and keep as many illegal aliens in their jurisdictions as possible,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Now these same jurisdictions have the temerity to claim, in the name of accuracy, that the U.S. government cannot even try to find out how many people living in this country are citizens and how many are not. These plaintiffs aren’t really interested in census accuracy,” Wilcox concluded, “they want money and power, even at the clear expense of the American people.”

The case is State of New York v. Dep’t of Commerce, No. 1:18-cv-2921 (S.D.N.Y. 2018).

For additional information, contact: Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org

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