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Nationwide lawsuit to block Trump administration from adding citizenship question to 2020 census

May 31, 2018

Commentary: Today, Somos Un Pueblo Unido joined a nationwide lawsuit to block the Trump administration from adding a question regarding citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census that could cost rural communities billions in federal funding by undercounting its growing Latino and immigrant populations.

The lawsuit was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) in federal court on behalf of several community-based and voter's rights groups throughout the country.

In March, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a memo announcing its decision to include a question about every person's citizenship status. The announcement came amid an uptick in ICE enforcement activities in New Mexico and more aggressive tactics at businesses, courthouses, and in neighborhoods. The question has been widely decried by community-based organizations and researchers claiming that it would deter hard-to-count communities from participating in the Census, especially Latinos and immigrants who are already on edge and feeling targeted by federal agencies.

"An undercount, even a small one, in New Mexico could cost us millions of dollars in federal funding for crucial social programs," said Marcela Díaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, New Mexico's only organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit. "It would also undercut political representation of growing Latino and immigrant populations in New Mexico's rural communities. Adding this question is another attempt by the Trump administration to attack our families and erase our contributions to the communities we call home. We must push back because the stakes are too high."

New Mexico is already vulnerable to a census undercount because of its high percentage of hard-to-count communities, including immigrants, rural residents, and Native Americans. Approximately 6 billion in federal dollars to New Mexico over the next ten years depend on an accurate count. And according to a report from the New Mexico Geospatial Advisory Committee, an undercount as small as 1 percent could cost New Mexico $600 million in federal monies.

"We are working hard to engage Latinos in the political process as part of Viva el Voto, our citizenship and voter registration campaign in southeastern New Mexico," said Carmen Quiñones, a long-time member of Somos Un Pueblo Unido who has lived in Roswell for 11 years, has three U.S. citizens children, and whose husband works in the dairy industry. "People are already afraid of the federal government because of ICE's increased presence and enforcement in our area. If they don't participate in the Census, it will mean fewer programs for our children and it will weaken our political voice."

An accurate Census count is especially critical to rural communities where Latinos and immigrants are driving growth, and in New Mexico there are several counties where this is the case according to a recent report by Headwater Economics, a research group based in Montana. They are helping keep school districts open and are sustaining local workforces in key industries such as agriculture, dairy, construction, service, and oil and gas. They also inject economic vigor, social diversity and youth into otherwise stagnant and aging rural communities.

"The future of rural New Mexico is at stake," said Polo Mendez, a former elementary school custodian and member of Somos who has lived in Clovis for 14 years and helps register Latino voters. "Trump and his allies are trying to make immigrant families invisible, even though we are vital to the survival of many rural communities. If the citizenship question is allowed to move forward, all New Mexicans will pay the price, not just immigrants. We must not be silenced. We must unite and stand up to Trump."

Previous census data shows that approximately 10% of New Mexico is foreign born and about 100,000 children born in the state have at least one immigrant parent.

Click here to view the complaint.

Click here to view MALDEF's national press release with more details of the lawsuit.