Immigrant groups sue feds over congressional districts order

July 28, 2020 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Civil rights and immigrant groups in Massachusetts have filed a federal lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s efforts to exclude immigrants living in the country illegally from being counted in the redrawing of congressional districts.

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the suit in Boston federal court late Monday on behalf of four organizations representing Haitian, Brazilian and Latino immigrants in the Boston area.

The organizations argue that Trump’s memo to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week is unconstitutional and that the federal court needs to immediately intervene to ensure an accurate count in the nation’s ongoing population count.

“The fourth sentence of the Constitution makes clear that the decennial census is intended to count and include all persons, not just all citizens,” said Lauren Sampson, a staff attorney at the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights.

The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce that oversees it, which are both named in the suit, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday. Trump has said including people in the country illegally in the population count “would create perverse incentives and undermine our system of government.”

Seats in U.S. House of Representatives are redistributed every 10 years based on changes in population found in the census. The census count also impacts how some $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed to states for things like Medicaid, highway projects, heating assistance and more.

Local governments and immigrants’ rights groups in other parts of the country have also challenged the July 21 order on constitutional grounds. The administration’s other efforts to inject the immigration debate into the decennial population count have also faced lawsuits, including Trump’s directive to the U.S. Census Bureau last year to gather citizenship data from residents. That move was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Trump administration’s latest effort undermines “countless hours and dollars” immigrant and community groups have spent encouraging participation in the census, said Dieufort Fleurissaint, chairman of Haitian-Americans United, one of the Boston-area immigration groups named in the suit.

Some immigrants are reluctant to participate in the national population count because of language barriers or over fears it might lead to arrest or deportation of them or family members.

“This cannot stand,” Fleurissaint said in a written statement. “With a stroke of a pen, the Trump Administration has undermined all of our efforts in a racist attempt to prevent our communities from receiving the representation and resources they need and deserve.”

The administration’s efforts will also complicate efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic in hard hit Latino communities like the Boston suburb of Chelsea, Massachusetts, said Gladys Vega, head of the Chelsea Collaborative, a nonprofit that’s also involved in the lawsuit.

“Our city needs more, not less, federal financial assistance,” she said. “If our communities are chilled from responding to Census 2020, we will not receive the resources we need to recover from this deadly pandemic and future crises.”