Columbus is joining other cities and states across the country in a New York lawsuit that seeks to block the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the U.S. Census.
City Attorney Zach Klein announced Tuesday that the city is now part of an amended complaint that New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed late Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Including a citizenship question could result in a "chilling effect" that would depress participation among Columbus immigrants and jeopardize the city's federal funding that is tied to population numbers, Klein said, pointing to the city’s large Somali population and other growing immigrant communities. The city received $107 million in federal funding last year linked to population counts.
"Columbus has a lot to lose when it comes to the financial ability to receive federal grants to fund important services in our community," Klein said at a news conference.
The federal funding Columbus received in 2017 that is linked to population counts, included about $70 million in Medicaid funding. The city also received $11 million for highway planning and construction, $7.7 million in community development block grants, and $6.7 million for food assistance.
Schneiderman filed the original suit in early April along with 17 other attorneys general, six cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The amended complaint added another state, four counties and three cities, including Columbus, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
The lawsuit said the inclusion of a question about citizenship would violate the enumeration clause of the U.S. Constitution because it would jeopardize the accuracy of the population count.
The Trump administration has argued that it needs more data on the voting-age population so that it can enforce voting rights. The Department of Justice requested that the question be added to the Census in December, and the U.S. Department of Commerce announced in March that it will be reinstated.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross "determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government purpose outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts," the department wrote in a news release.
Several states have sued or threatened to do so as they worry about the potential ramifications of undercounting immigrants. Population counts are used to determine the number of U.S. House of Representatives seats each state receives, and any population dip could result in lost seats.
"Everyone deserves to be counted, and we’re standing up to make sure everyone is counted because we appreciate and respect everyone for who they are in the city of Columbus," Klein said.
Klein said immigrant communities in Columbus are afraid that the information from the Census would be used to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers track down immigrants for deportation.
"It’s fear that it might be used against the community and used for profiling," said Mohamud Jama, who runs a political-action committee made up of immigrants in Columbus. "They won’t participate. They will just throw it away."
In the 2010 Census, about 29 percent of Columbus households did not mail back their questionnaires, triggering an in-person follow-up, according to the lawsuit. About 11.6 percent of the city’s population was made up of immigrants in 2014, and 22 percent of those were undocumented.
"Our new American neighbors should feel welcome and supported, not threatened," said Ramona Reyes, director of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center and a Columbus Cit Schools board member.