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Move to add citizenship question to census draws protest

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration's decision to ask people about their citizenship in the 2020 census set off worries among Democrats on Tuesday that immigrants will dodge the survey altogether, diluting political representation for states that tend to vote Democrat and robbing many communities of federal dollars.

New Mexico's census point person, Robert Rhatigan with the University of New Mexico's Geospatial and Population Studies, said Tuesday that he and his counterparts in other states were alarmed by the move.

“It can only serve to drive down participation, and New Mexico already has a lower participation rate,” he said.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas said Tuesday he plans to join New Mexico to a multi-state lawsuit challenging the inclusion of the question on the census survey.

“As the Attorney General of the state most likely to be undercounted in 2020, I have a duty to object to a move that will intimidate our population and keep us from getting every dollar we deserve,” Balderas wrote in a statement.

Not since 1950 has the census collected citizenship data from the whole population, rather than just a sample, says the Congressional Research Service. The decision to restore the question prompted an immediate lawsuit from California and moves by other states with large immigrant populations to engage in a legal fight.

The population count, a massive effort undertaken every 10 years, is more than an academic exercise. It's required by the Constitution and used to determine the number of seats each state has in the House, as well as how federal money is distributed to local communities. Communities and businesses depend on it in deciding where to build schools, hospitals, grocery stores and more.

The political stakes of undercounting segments of the population are high.

Several states that have slowing population growth or high numbers of immigrants, such as California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio, are typically at risk of losing U.S. House seats when their congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years – depending on how fully their residents are counted.

California struck quickly, with Attorney General Xavier Becerra filing a federal lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to block Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' decision to add a citizenship question in 2020. Officials from New York and New Jersey were also planning on leading or participating in lawsuits. Massachusetts signaled interest, too.

Journal staff writer Maggie Shepard contributed to this report.