Birmingham, AL – The State of Alabama sued the federal government in May seeking to define undocumented immigrants as non-persons under the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the state seeks to exclude these immigrants from the required Census count of all persons in the United States every 10 years.
Concerned that the Trump administration will not adequately defend existing law, Latino voters and civil rights groups today filed papers to intervene in Alabama’s lawsuit. The proposed interveners reside in states, including California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona that stand to lose congressional seats and federal funding if all residents are not counted. MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Birmingham civil rights attorneys James U. Blacksher and Edward Still today asked a federal court in Alabama to allow the Latino voters to intervene as defendants in the Alabama lawsuit.
“One legal outcome of the Civil War was a Constitution that abandons the previous ‘3/5 rule’ and treats all persons as full ‘persons’; that Alabama, of all states, would challenge that change a century and a half later, is simply sordid,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Even more contemptible, the current administration cannot be trusted to defend against the sordid lawsuit because the president and other administration officials regularly treat immigrants, in rhetoric and in practice, as less than human.”
The Enumeration Clause of the Constitution requires a decennial count of all persons residing in the United States. The Constitution further mandates the apportionment of congressional districts based on total population.
“Alabama’s blatant attempt at a power grab from a growing Latino electorate will not go unchallenged,” said MALDEF legislative staff attorney Andrea Senteno. “The intervenors in this case are prepared to ensure that basic constitutional principles are upheld, especially given that this Administration is unwilling to defend the Constitution and the rule of law. Representatives represent everyone, regardless of legal status. This is something the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment understood and that Alabama must accept now, 150 years after its passage.”
The 2020 Census is already at risk of a severe undercount because of the planned addition of a citizenship question. The federal government is facing several lawsuits over the citizenship question, including one filed on May 31 and amended this week by MALDEF, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) and the Law Office of Robert P. Newman asserting that it was motivated by racial animus and a government conspiracy to deny the equal protection rights of communities of color.
The memorandum in support of the motion to intervene in the Alabama lawsuit notes that the citizenship question does not inquire about immigration status and that requiring the Census Bureau to gather that information would be extremely difficult.
“Even putting aside for the moment the logistical nightmare that the Census Bureau would experience if it tried to collect immigration status information about residents, information that it has never before collected, any such attempt would likely cause higher non-response rates and a disparate undercount in Latino and other population groups with higher numbers of immigrants than the population as a whole,” the memorandum states.
In addition to allocating seats in Congress, Census data are crucial for drawing accurate election districts and ensuring equitable distribution of federal funds for a wide range of vital programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Section 8 housing vouchers and special education grants.