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Hawaii joins states opposed to census citizenship question

Acting Hawaii Attorney General Russell Suzuki is part of a coalition that urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to reject the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.

The citizenship question, the attorneys general alleged in a letter Monday to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, would directly threaten states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as potentially billions of dollars in critical federal funds.

Under the Constitution, the Census Bureau is already obligated to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.” Non-citizens are counted in the Census for the purposes of federal funds for programs like Medicaid and Title I funding for local educational agencies, the apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts.

“Adding a citizenship question — especially at such a late date in the 2020 Census planning process — would significantly depress participation,” said the coalition in the letter, “causing a population undercount that would disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities.”

On Dec. 12, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau include a citizenship question on the 2020 census form sent to every household in the United States. The department argued that the collection of such information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The coalition, however, said the proposal would have precisely the opposite effect by driving down participation in immigrant communities.

The letter was led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and signed by the attorneys general of New York, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and the governor of the state of Colorado.

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