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Borough Presidents praise court decision on 2020 Census citizenship question

"Today's ruling is a win for New Yorkers"

January 15, 2019 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In October, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined Cecilia Clarke, president and CEO at Brooklyn Community Foundation along with representatives from New York Counts 2020, CUNY, Rockefeller Institute and the Center for Law and Social Justice to launch a campaign for a complete census count in Brooklyn. Eagle photo by Shlomo Sprung
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A decision made by a federal judge on Tuesday morning drew praise from many immigration advocates, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who were optimistic about the judge’s decision.

In a 277-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse M. Furman ruled that although the decision to include a question in the 2020 census about citizenship was not technically unconstitutional, officials did not follow proper administrative procedures and included the question to intentionally undercount immigrants for political purposes.

“[Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross] failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices,” Furman wrote in the decision.

Katz said the citizenship question would prevent a complete and accurate count of residents in Queens and nationwide. She said immigration advocates will continue to resist policies that harm immigrants.

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“The legal battle is likely far from over, and Queens will continue to speak out against the proposed Census citizenship question for as long as there is active litigation. But today’s court ruling is a tremendous victory in the fight against a reckless policy targeting our thriving immigrant communities in Queens and across the country,” Katz said.

Adams praised the work of local advocates who fought to block the Census question.

“We are thrilled to congratulate the advocacy work of the New York Immigration Coalition as well as so many other immigrant rights organizations that have raised their voices against this injustice, as we celebrate Judge Furman’s decision as a milestone in the fight for a fair and accurate Census count,” he said in statement.

Furman said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added the question arbitrarily and that his decision was, “unsupported by, or even counter to, the evidence before the agency.”

Judge Furman went on to say that Ross didn’t give Congress three years notice of the plan to add the question, as is required by law.

“We are disappointed and are still reviewing the ruling,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement.

New York was one of 34 states and cities — plus the U.S. Conference of Mayors — to join in a lawsuit for the case. Part of their argument was that the federal government didn’t make enough of an effort to analyze the effects of the question.

In a statement on Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James praised Judge Furman’s decision and said that accurate population counts are “imperative” for fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

“Today’s ruling is a win for New Yorkers and Americans across the country who believe in a fair and accurate count of the residents of our nation,” James said. “The attempts by the Trump administration to mandate a question about citizenship were not rooted in a desire to strengthen the census process and would only undermine our immigrant communities. Inciting fear in our residents is not only immoral, but also ill-conceived.”

Adams explained that Kings County, home to a large immigrant population, could be one of the toughest counties in the state to count.

“This is a resounding victory in our fight to #MakeBrooklynCount,” Adams said. “Brooklyn is the ‘hardest to count’ county in all of New York state, and the efforts of the Trump administration to add a citizenship question would further disenfranchise our residents — 40 percent of whom are foreign-born — and their families from being counted and therefore receiving the resources and representation they deserve.”

The constitutionally mandated census is supposed to count all people living in the U.S., including noncitizens and immigrants living in the country illegally.

The Census Bureau’s staff estimated that adding a citizenship question could depress responses in households with at least one noncitizen by as much as 5.8 percent. That could be particularly damaging in states like New York or California, which have large immigrant populations.

Justice Department lawyers argued that the estimate was overblown and that, even if the figures were true, that didn’t mean Ross exceeded his legal authority in including the question anyway.

However, Furman said, Ross violated the law by falling short on requirements that his agency considered all-important aspects of a problem, study evidence, make a decision rationally based on that evidence, comply with all laws and articulate “the real reasons” for its conclusion.

Additional reporting by David Brand and the Associated Press.

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