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NEW YORK -- Dozens of states and cities that sued to block President Donald Trump's administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census got help from an unlikely source on the first day of trial: the U.S. government.

Just four days ago, the U.S. Census Bureau presented findings at an annual meeting that appear to undermine the government's claim in court that adding the question "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" to the once-a-decade survey won't erode participation by Hispanics and noncitizens, as plaintiffs allege it will, according to evidence displayed Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

The 71-page document, prepared for one of the Census Bureau's national advisory committees, shows "key findings" from a survey of thousands of households and dozens of focus groups this spring, including a finding that adding a citizenship question "may be a major barrier" to the census.

The survey, intended to help prepare the agency for the 2020 census, showed that many participants were concerned about how citizenship data could be used by the government, with some respondents saying they feared it would be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation sweeps. While the Census Bureau does collect identifying information including names and addresses of respondents, it's not authorized to share the data with ICE.

Hispanics who participated in the focus group "expressed intense fear that information will be shared with other government agencies to help them find undocumented immigrants," according to the document, which was prepared for the Census Bureau by Young & Rubicam. "Participants worried that their participation in the census could harm them personally or others in their communities/households they care about."

"I think it confirms what we have said we will prove in this case: that it will be a major problem," New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who's leading the coalition of plaintiffs, said during a break in the trial Monday.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, had said in March there was "limited empirical evidence" that the question would scare off participants, a month before the Census Bureau was preparing to start its survey.

The plaintiffs claim the citizenship question, paired with Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, is intended to scare immigrants and noncitizens away from the census and thus dilute their political power, given that census data are used to apportion members of Congress and divvy up Electoral College votes, as well as direct billions of dollars in federal funds to states and localities. The trial, which started the day before the midterm election, could help rewrite the nation's political map for a decade.

The government on Monday sought to block the survey findings from being presented as evidence, though that request was denied by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who is conducting the trial without a jury. The U.S. has argued that adding the question will improve the accuracy of the census and allow the government to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department insists Furman should decide the case based only on the administrative record rather than evidence gathered by the plaintiffs, which includes the deposition of Commerce Department officials and others.

Furman said he will allow evidence to be submitted during the trial before he decides whether it is appropriate to consider it when he issues his opinion.

The first witness -- Duke University Professor D. Sunshine Hillygus -- said there was considerable evidence that adding the question will depress participation by noncitizens.

Hillygus, who served six years on the scientific advisory committee for the census, said she has concluded that plans by the U.S. government to take steps to prevent damage to the overall count by adding the question are unlikely to be adequate.

She said the decision "violates the spirit" of guidelines set up to protect the census and "undermines not only the accuracy and completeness of the census ... but the integrity."

Information for this article was contributed by Erik Larson of Bloomberg News, and by Larry Neumeister of The Associated Press.

A Section on 11/06/2018

Print Headline: Census survey presented at trial

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