San Francisco joined a coalition of cities and states in filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration Tuesday over a potential 2020 census question that officials said could jeopardize the livelihood of immigrants in America and decrease funding for critical federal programs.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Tuesday that San Francisco is working with 17 states and seven cities in challenging the census question, which would ask residents being surveyed to declare their citizenship status.
The lawsuit states that it is an “unconstitutional and arbitrary decision to add a citizenship demand to the 2020 Census questionnaire.”
Spearheaded by the state of New York, the case names the United States Department of Justice, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the Census Bureau and its director, Ron Jarmin, as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges that the single citizenship question on the census would “fatally undermine the accuracy of the population count” and cause “tremendous harms” to the residents of the cities and states involved in the case.
Nationwide, immigrants account for 13 percent of the population. However, more than a third of San Francisco is made up of immigrant residents.
“Obtaining the cooperation of a suspicious and fearful population would be impossible if the group being counted perceived any possibility of the information being used against them,” the Census Bureau said in a 1980 lawsuit regarding putting a citizenship question on the census.
“Questions as to citizenship are particularly sensitive in minority communities and would inevitably trigger hostility, resentment and refusal to cooperate,” the Census Bureau said in that case.
An accurate population census is critical to receiving funding for hundreds of billions of dollars toward federally funded programs like Medicaid, transportation services and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
“Low-income families across the country rely on an accurate census for federal assistance,” Herrera said. “Those numbers determine how much federal funding San Francisco receives to help residents get food, health care and housing.”
Depressing the number of people who respond to the census could lead to an imbalance of funding for cities or states with a higher population of immigrant communities.
On top of federal grants for vital programs, the population derived from each decade’s census response decides how many electoral votes California has and allocates the number of seats California has in the House of Representatives.
“The Trump administration is playing politics with people’s lives,” Herrera said. “This is the latest front in their cynical war on immigrants, and they’re indifferent to the collateral damage they would cause. Hard-working families looking for a hand up would be kicked to the curb by an administration trying to twist the numbers for political advantage.”