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National Civil Rights Organizations And The City Of San Jose File Lawsuit Challenging The Inclusion Of Citizenship Question On 2020 Census

For Immediate Release April 17, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Public Counsel, along with law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration against the United States Department of Commerce in the Northern District of California. The lawsuit challenges the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and seeks an injunction prohibiting the Census Bureau from including the question on the next census.

On March 26, 2018, the Department of Commerce, at the direction of Secretary Wilbur Ross, set aside decades of practice and announced the 2020 decennial census will include a question asking the citizenship status of every respondent. The question will likely deter participation in the census, resulting in an undercount of immigrant communities and communities of color.

“African Americans, Latinos and other minority communities have historically been undercounted during each decennial census.  This administration’s 11th hour insertion of a citizenship question will exacerbate this long-standing problem,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Moreover, while the administration says the citizenship question is necessary to help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, we know this is a spurious claim. Cases to protect the voting rights of minority communities brought by the DOJ have come to a grinding halt. This citizenship question aims to weaponize the Census for the purpose of disrupting the 2020 redistricting cycle and obstructing efforts to ensure a fair and accurate Census count as the Constitution requires.”

The Census Bureau has itself recognized a groundswell of concern from immigrant and minority communities about sharing personal information with the Trump Administration, given its anti-immigrant rhetoric and targeting of immigrant communities. In response to the question, the City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, have doubled their efforts to ensure that all communities are counted in the upcoming census.

“In San Jose, every one counts,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “Our values – and values held dear by millions of Americans – appear threatened by the Trump Administration’s political motives. Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census will stoke fears and depress participation in diverse cities like San Jose, threatening hundreds of millions in funding for health, education, and other critical services upon which our entire community depends.”

“Given this administration’s open hostility toward black and brown immigrants, the late addition of a citizenship question is no more than an attempt to discourage participation in the 2020 Census,” said Opal Tometi, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “BAJI will immediately mobilize to raise awareness and educate communities about the importance of full participation in the decennial census because too much is at stake. We must stand up. We must participate. And we must be counted.”

The Constitution mandates that “all persons in each state, regardless of citizenship status, shall be counted every ten years” for the purpose of apportioning congressional representatives among the states. As noted in the lawsuit, anything short of an full count of “all persons” could result in the loss of political representation and millions of dollars in federal funding for public health, education, transportation and neighborhood improvements.

“The Founders of our nation thought that counting all who reside here was so paramount that the requirement to do such was enshrined in the Constitution,” said Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel. “This Administration fears an honest count for reasons having nothing to do with accuracy and everything to do with politics. It seeks to discount certain individuals based on cultural heritage or national origin. But the Census includes us, all of us, not some of us, as the government would instead remake it.”

The City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, are represented in this matter by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Counsel, with pro bono representation provided by Manatt, Phelps, & Phillips, LLP.

“When the opportunity to work on a case of this magnitude presents itself, the only response is action,” said John Libby, partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. “It is our responsibility to uphold the principles that embody the Constitution. That responsibility includes ensuring the accuracy of the United States Census so that all persons are counted and are not deterred from responding to the Census by questions about their citizenship, which have not been asked on the Census for nearly seven decades. An accurate count is crucial so that Congressional districts can be properly allocated and local governments can receive the funding necessary to keep them operating efficiently. Working hand-in-hand with our clients, the City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and co-counsel from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Public Counsel, we hope to eliminate this particular question so all people residing in the U.S. feel safe and secure responding to the 2020 Census.”

To read the complaint, click here.

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.  Now in its 55th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

About Public Counsel:

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm with a staff of more than 120 attorneys, social workers, and intake specialists and the support of 5,000 pro bono partners from the nation’s top law firms, leading law schools and major corporations. Public Counsel’s activities are far-ranging and impact a wide spectrum of people who live at or below the poverty level. Our attorneys are national experts on immigration, veterans’ benefits, child welfare, nonprofit law, and school discipline among other areas.

About Black Alliance for Just Immigration:

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration is the leading Black immigrant rights organization in the United States, representing nearly 10 million Black immigrants and refugees. BAJI combats structural racism so that Black immigrants and African Americans, can achieve racial, social and economic justice.

About Manatt, Phelps, & Phillips, LLP:

Manatt is a multidisciplinary, integrated national professional services firm known for quality and an extraordinary commitment to clients. We are keenly focused on specific industry sectors, providing legal and consulting capabilities at the very highest levels to achieve our clients’ business objectives.

About The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The Lawyers' Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.

For more information about the Lawyers' Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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