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Pittsburgh joins lawsuit challenging citizenship question on 2020 census

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, May 1, 2018, 12:51 p.m.
In this March 15, 2010, file photo, copies of the 2010 Census forms in Phoenix. The 2020 U.S. Census will add a question about citizenship status, a move that brought swift condemnation from Democrats who said it would intimidate immigrants and discourage them from participating.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this March 15, 2010, file photo, copies of the 2010 Census forms in Phoenix. The 2020 U.S. Census will add a question about citizenship status, a move that brought swift condemnation from Democrats who said it would intimidate immigrants and discourage them from participating. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Pittsburgh has joined a federal lawsuit aimed at stopping the Trump administration from including a citizenship question in the 2020 census.

The mayor's office contends the question would discourage noncitizens and undocumented immigrants from participating in the census and skew population counts used to determine federal funding for states and the number of congressional and Electoral College representatives for each state.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in March ordered the Census Bureau to ask every resident about their citizenship status.

“As the defendant's own research shows, this decision will ‘inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count' by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants will not only fatally undermine the accuracy of the 2020 Census, but will jeopardize critical federal funding needed by states and localities to provide services and support for millions of residents.”

U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions last month described the question as “common sense” and said it's appropriate to ask residents whether they are citizens.

The plaintiffs include 18 states, including Pennsylvania; nine cities; four counties; and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Pittsburgh received $10.3 million in Community Development Block Grants in the last fiscal year, according to Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto. About 8.5 percent of Pittsburgh's total estimated population of 305,305 are immigrants. In 2014, the most recent year for which statistics were available, 18 percent of the immigrants were undocumented.

The lawsuit was originally filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It was amended to add Pittsburgh and other cities to the list of plaintiffs.

It asks the court to declare the question unconstitutional and stop it from appearing on census questionnaires.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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