Former Census Director Blasts Trump’s Citizenship Question at Trial

(Bloomberg) -- The former director of the U.S. Census Bureau took the witness stand on Friday to back dozens of states and cities alleging the Trump administration is set to undermine participation in the 2020 census by asking about citizenship for the first time in 70 years.

Many immigrants and non-citizens have a “lack of trust” in government and a citizenship question would likely make them too scared to participate in the once-a-decade population count, John H. Thompson, who was census director for about four years until May, testified in federal court in Manhattan.

That same fear of government also means immigrants and non-citizens aren’t likely to cooperate with census takers who knock on their doors to follow up with people who don’t “self respond” to the written questionnaire, Thompson said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, made “inaccurate statements” about why he added the question, Thompson said in his report. Ross also failed to provide a rationale for ignoring recommendations by Bureau staff for cheaper and more accurate ways to gather citizenship data, Thompson said.

The Bureau has disputed the claim that Ross’ statements were inaccurate and argues the agency has wide constitutional authority to decide what questions should be added to the census. The agency has said the citizenship question will make the census more accurate.

The plaintiffs, led by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, sued in April claiming the question was added to dilute the political power of immigrants by discouraging them from participating in the next decennial census. Census data are used to apportion members of Congress, divvy up the Electoral College and distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid.

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