Texas Legislators Sue Feds Over Citizenship Question on Census

U.S. Census Bureau
A worker tabulates the 1960 census.
The Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus are adamant that Texas residents should not have to answer questions about their immigration status when census takers come to their doors in 2020. The groups, which comprise the majority of Latino and Latina representatives in the Legislature, sued the Department of Commerce on Thursday in a Maryland-based federal court over its decision to ask those taking the census whether they're U.S. citizens.

"Billions of dollars utilized to fund our neighborhood schools, provide critical health care services, prepare our communities for natural disasters, and upgrade roads and infrastructure are at risk," state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, chair of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, said in a statement. "We are disappointed that the Trump administration is putting politics before what's best for Texans."

The potential consequences for Texas are enormous and easy to foresee. If the question stays put and Texas immigrants aren't counted because they fear ramifications from answering the survey, the state could lose millions in federal funding, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

For every 1 percent of the Texas population that is undercounted, the state could lose $291 million in federal funding that would otherwise go to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start preschool and the Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as things such as highways and parks.

If we don't have everybody counted, we're going to have to pay more to serve the same number of people. — Eva DeLuna Castro

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"If we don't have everybody counted, we're going to have to pay more to serve the same number of people," Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget analyst with the center, told the Observer earlier this year. "The formulas [for federal programs] assume that a certain population size brings you a certain amount of money. ... Texas already has an undercount. We don't know how big it is. To make that even worse, it's just more and more money that we have to come up with here instead of getting federal help to pay for it."

According to the Commerce Department, getting the most accurate data possible from the census is more important than making sure as many U.S. residents as possible participate in the process.

"The citizenship data provided to [the Department of Justice] will be more accurate with the question than without it, which is of greater importance than any adverse effect that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross wrote in a March statement.

In their suit, the plaintiffs assert that the decision by Ross and the Commerce Department' to ask about citizenship was motivated by racial bias rather than the desire for an accurate count.

"The inclusion of a citizenship question in the decennial census violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment because it is motivated by racial animus towards Latinos, Asian Americans, and animus towards non-U.S. citizens and foreign-born persons," the lawsuit says.

The census has not asked whether taking it were U.S. citizens since 1950.