The Trump administration faced another stumbling block this Tuesday in their efforts to get a question about citizenship included in the upcoming census. New York federal Judge Jesse Furman demanded that the Department of Justice stop their reshuffling of the legal team that had been working on the case, asserting their explanation for the attempted shift to be “patently deficient.” His decision came with greater urgency, he noted, in light of the Justice Department themselves having sought to cast this case as urgent and the fact that legal briefs are due in just a few days covering the question of what Furman should do next.
A full eleven lawyers had requested permission to leave the case, and Attorney General William Barr himself had essentially signed off on the request, explaining that he “can understand if they’re not interested in participating in this phase.” Either way, nine of them will be staying on at Furman’s order as the Trump administration continues to pursue their efforts to add the citizenship question. Barr and Trump have both suggested a public next step like a potential executive order is coming soon.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project’s Director Dale Ho praised Furman’s decision, casting it as allowing all involved better access to what’s really going on behind the scenes at the Justice Department as they push for this question. As he put it:
‘The Justice Department owes the public and the courts an explanation for its unprecedented substitution of the entire legal team that has been working on this case. The Trump administration is acting like it has something to hide, and we won’t rest until we know the truth.’
Advocates have been concerned that adding the citizenship question could keep immigrant communities in the United States away from the census, which could depress their representation in Congress since seats are apportioned based on the census totals.
The U.S. Supreme Court itself already ruled against the question, asserting that the Trump administration had provided no appropriate explanation for their attempted addition — and now they’re seemingly trying to find a new one, even as they print census forms without the question since printing had to begin and they’re legally barred from including it. That’s how desperate they are — apparently, according to NBC, Barr pushed the census case beyond the Supreme Court decision “before the lawyers could officially object to further work on the matter.”
The push fits into a much larger continually growing narrative of the Trump administration attempting to push down immigrant communities. Despite their claims, however, there is no epidemic of voter fraud or any other kind of crime perpetrated in these communities. The arrest rates for undocumented immigrants have historically been lower than those for native-born Americans, and all border counties but one have been documented to have lower crime rates than comparable inland jurisdictions. In other words — Trump’s supposed crisis is not there, and there is no mandate for some kind of crackdown on immigrants suggested by funneling census questionnaires through who is a citizen and who is not.
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