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Harris County Attorney Ryan Files Court Brief Seeking To Remove Citizenship Question From 2020 Census

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan yesterday filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit seeking to prevent the U.S. Census Bureau from including a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census.

Ryan is joined in Harris County’s brief by Fort Bend County Judge K.P. George and the City of Marfa. The brief asks the Supreme Court to affirm a district court judge’s ruling that the citizenship question cannot be included. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed against the Census Bureau by the State of New York.

“We join in the concerns expressed across the country that a question on citizenship will reduce the number of people participating in the 2020 Census,” said Ryan. “This question will intimidate our immigrant population. We want everyone to participate—whether they are citizens or not.”

The brief states that the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census will cause in an undercount of each jurisdiction’s significant foreign-born population resulting in disproportionately low representation at the local, state, and federal levels along with corrupt data inadequate for effective governance. An undercount will also hurt the amount of federal dollars coming to these communities in programs based on population.

Harris County’s growth has always been driven by immigrants intertwined with new industries creating diverse economic engines for Texas and the country, Ryan points out in the brief. Neighboring suburban Fort Bend County has exploded in growth, diversity and affluence in the last few decades electing its first non-Anglo chief executive since the 1800s, immigrant K.P. George. While the tiny City of Marfa has not seen such explosive growth, it shares a high foreign-born population with Harris and Fort Bend at risk for a net undercount in the Decennial Census.

Ryan says the current intense climate of fear among immigrants makes it all the more likely that the net differential undercount will be more acute in Texas should the citizenship question be added to the census. In the past, as with the decades-long practice of using “white primaries” to disenfranchise African-American voters, the Supreme Court was the only source of protection to the constitutional rights of people wishing to engage in the civic sphere.

“Now, the Supreme Court’s intervention is needed again, to ensure that the integrity of the data for representation and effective governance is protected,” Ryan said. “Judge George, the City of Marfa and we agree with the New York district court’s finding that the undocumented and Hispanics will be disproportionately undercounted if the citizenship question is left in the Census.”

“We believe adding that question will depress responses, undercount the people and harm the representation and safety of the people of Harris and Fort Bend Counties and the City of Marfa,” Ryan concludes.