For Juanita Valdez-Cox, asking all 2020 census respondents if they are US citizens would mean less food on family tables and more people unable to pay their rent.
Valdez-Cox is the executive director of La Union del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, a community union in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, which is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the citizenship issue.
Final arguments are scheduled for Thursday in a Maryland courtroom in LUPE v. Ross, one of three challenges to the Trump administration’s plan to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census. The Ross is Wilbur Ross, secretary of the Department of Commerce, which administers the census.
The lawsuit, filed by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, alleges that administration officials and others conspired to deprive minority voters of their equal rights. The trial, held in Maryland because one of the plaintiffs is the Maryland Latino Legislative Caucus, and the Census Bureau and at least one state-resident defendant, began Jan. 22.
“I know the citizenship issue could hurt a lot of states, but we’ll really feel it in South Texas,” Valdez-Cox told NBC News in a phone interview last week.
LUPE was founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in 1989, in the belief that members of low-income communities have a responsibility and an obligation to organize.
In the Rio Grande Valley, where nearly 90% of the population is Mexican-American and Mexican, Valdez-Cox said a census undercount could mean less money for housing assistance and programs. such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps, which many people in the Valley rely on.
For trial, the case was consolidated with Kravitz v. US Department of Commerce, another lawsuit on the issue of citizenship.
Along with legal challenges in California and New York, the outcome of the Maryland lawsuit could have major implications for Latino communities across the country.
Census data is used to allocate seats in Congress and allocate federal tax revenues for a wide range of federal programs. Some households include family members who lack legal documents, and mixed-status families have expressed concern that responding to census forms could lead to their confidential information being shared with immigration authorities.
But Valdez-Cox said no matter how the citizenship issue is resolved, the damage has already been done.
“Some people from mixed families or undocumented families don’t trust this administration,” said Valdez-Cox, who testified for plaintiffs in the Maryland lawsuit. “Anyway, we’re going to have a lot of work to do, to encourage people to participate.
The Trump administration has said the citizenship issue is necessary to improve suffrage law enforcement and reduce voter fraud.
Against the Census Bureau’s recommendation, Ross announced the addition of the citizenship question in March 2018.
Denise M. Hulett, MALDEF’s senior national counsel, said the plaintiffs presented evidence “which we believe shows the issue of citizenship was added for an improper and discriminatory purpose.”
His team featured tweets from President Donald Trump, official White House statements and comments such as his remarks about “s—hole countries” in support of the claim that the Trump administration was motivated by racial prejudice by adding the question of citizenship.
Hulett pointed to findings from a Census Bureau focus group study that was released during the trial that showed the issue could potentially be a significant barrier to Latino participation.
“It’s pretty amazing how many people don’t believe the Census Bureau will keep their information private,” she said. “It strengthens our case because the potential negative impact is very real.”
At trial, the Trump administration tried to show that adding the citizenship question would not hurt the 2020 count.
While a Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on LUPE v. Ross, the spokesperson, issued a statement to NBC News on February 11.
“Secretary Ross, the only person with legal authority over the census, has reasonably decided to reinstate a citizenship question in the 2020 census in response to the Justice Department’s request for better citizenship data, in order to protect voters from racial discrimination. Our government is legally authorized to include a question about citizenship in the census, and residents of the United States have a legal obligation to answer it,” the Justice Department said. “Reinstating the citizenship question ultimately protects the right to vote and helps ensure free and fair elections for all Americans.”
On January 15, a federal judge in the New York case ruled against the Trump administration, blocking plans to include the citizenship question in the 2020 census. Hoping to circumvent the court’s level of appeal, the administration on January 22 asked the Supreme Court to consider the matter.
On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case in April and decide by June.
Hulett told NBC News in an email that the Supreme Court’s decision should not affect the Maryland lawsuit because “we have additional claims involving intentional discrimination.
In LUPE c. Ross, MALDEF alleges violation of the Enumeration, Equal Protection and Distribution Clauses of the Constitution; violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which regulates federal decision-making; and conspiracy to violate the Civil Rights Act.
Last year, Ross told Congress the citizenship issue stemmed from a December 2017 Justice Department request. He later backtracked, writing in a note that he had initiated the request. Government records say Ross also consulted with former White House adviser Steve Bannon and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on the matter.
Douglas S. Massey, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, said last week that the citizenship issue would compromise the bureau’s ability to get an accurate tally.
“The question serves no conceivable purpose under federal, state or local law. This will lead to undercounting, increased costs and damage to public trust,” Massey said.
Massey, who testified as an expert witness in the Maryland trial for MALDEF, said adding a citizenship question was a particularly bad idea because this census will be the first to be conducted largely online. . Asking a contentious question could add more risk and uncertainty to an already difficult task.
“Any controversy around the census takes away its legitimacy in the eyes of citizens and the people who should respond to it,” said Massey, a former member of the census’ scientific advisory committee. He called the proposed citizenship question “the most egregious political intervention in the census in decades.”
Ross is scheduled to testify March 14 before a House oversight committee, where one of the topics is expected to be the 2020 census.
Valdez-Cox is optimistic that the outcome of the federal lawsuit in Maryland and that his community will prevail.
“In this area, there is a lot of strength, because of the attacks from the Trump administration. In the face of bad policies, our community will not remain silent. The meaner they are, the stronger we become,” she said.
“And the more they want to make us invisible,” she added, “the more persistent our spirit becomes.”
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