El Paso County has joined a coalition of states, cities and counties led by the state of New York in a lawsuit against the Trump administration to block the citizenship question from being a part of the 2020 census.
The lawsuit argues that the U.S. Department of Commerce is violating the U.S. Constitution by deterring the participation of noncitizens in the decennial population count. The Constitution requires the U.S. Census Bureau to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.”
El Paso County officials said earlier this week that the question will dissuade people from answering the census, resulting in an undercount of the population and consequently leading to a reduction in federal and state grants. In addition, it will cause distributional inaccuracies in the data states use to draw district lines.
“By joining the lawsuit we are advocating for our taxpayers, who have to make up the lack in funding to our community when we don’t have an accurate population count,” County Judge Ruben Vogt said in a statement. “An undercount also impacts redistricting and our ability to ensure adequate representation is provided at all levels of government.”
Among the grants that could be affected are the Community Development Block Grants from the federal government, as well as grants for indigent defense and juvenile justice programs, said Assistant County Attorney Jed Untereker.
“There are a whole slew of grants that are dependent on population,” he said.
Untereker said El Paso County already has low participation in the census and adding the question will add to the lack of participation.
County Commissioner Andrew Haggerty said he does not support the county’s involvement in the lawsuit because he does not believe the citizenship question will keep more people from answering the census.
“We’ve been saying for years that El Paso does not get the representation we deserve because so many people don’t fill out the census because they are not here legally. Now we are saying there is a question that is going to keep people from filling out the census. So, if they have not done it in the past, they won’t do it in the future,” he said.
The county’s involvement in the lawsuit comes two months after the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that a question on citizenship status will be reinstated to the 2020 census. The last time a citizenship question was part of the decennial census was in 1950.
In a statement, U.S. Commerce Department officials said the reason behind the decision is to help enforce the Voting Rights Act by offering data on the number of citizens in an area who are of voting age.
On Monday, the County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 to allow the expenditure of $5,000 for the legal process. County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said it’s unlikely that the county would use the money as the state of New York is taking the lead in the case.