Native American Voting Rights Group Joins Lawsuit Against the Proposed Citizenship Question On 2020 Census

Four Directions, a nationally known voting rights group founded by Rosebud Sioux Tribal members, has joined a lawsuit opposing the federal government’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, according to a media release from MALDEF, the Latino Voice for Civil Rights in America.

Organizations representing new immigrants are suing to pull the citizenship question, which they believe is a malicious effort to create an undercount in their communities. Adding a citizenship question also could cause undercounting in Indian Country, the release said. Since many tribal members self-identify as citizens of their Tribal Nations, they might respond “no” if asked whether they are U.S. citizens. An under count would have real life consequences; many federal programs use the Census figures to distribute funding.

The U.S. Commerce Department is accepting public comments on the census until August 7. The three lead organizations opposing the citizenship question have created an easy to use on-line portal to submit comments.

According to the formal legal complaint:

Four Directions works with tribes and Tribal members living on reservations across the U.S., including in Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Tribal members are citizens of their tribe, the United States, and the state in which they reside. …

The Tribal members Four Directions works with live on reservations that use or receive Tribal benefits or services from programs that are based entirely, or in part, on Census data, including but not limited to: Indian Housing Block Grants, Tribal Transportation Programs, certain child welfare programs, special Native American workforce grants, Indian Health Services, Native American Employment and Training, National School Lunch and School Breakfast, WIC, Food Distribution Program, and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Census data is used to determine funding for transportation, roads, housing, healthcare, schools, and construction on Indian reservations.

Lawsuit Asserts Citizenship Question Grew from Conspiracy to Deny Civil Rights

The media release challenges the citizenship question in blunt language:

[The complaint] alleges that the citizenship question was the product of a conspiracy by Donald Trump, former White House advisor Steve Bannon, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and other cabinet members and government officials to violate the civil rights of communities of color. It is the first explicit claim of a conspiracy to deprive immigrants and minorities of their constitutional rights to equal representation and fair allocation of federal funds by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. …

“The amended complaint helps to further detail the full scope of the politically-motivated and untenable decision to add an unnecessary question, with the specific design of reducing the count of immigrant communities and specifically undercounting the growing Latino community, which Donald Trump plainly views as a significant threat to his political aims,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “This unprecedented politicization of the constitutional duty to enumerate all persons is a serious danger to our democracy.”

As of 2016, there were approximately 5.6 million Native Americans in the United States, that’s slightly more than Minnesota’s entire population.

Native Americans are already at greater risk to be under counted in the U.S. Census, according to the Fact Sheet: Will You Count? American Indians and Alaska Natives in the 2020 Census. It cites several reasons, including poverty, housing insecurity (making in more difficult to locate people), and age (younger children are typically harder to count, and on reservations the median age is nine years younger than the U.S. average).

Click on the “publication” link above for a more detailed analysis of why the Census matters in Indian Country.

Here is a list of all the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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