State officials urged the Trump administration to move quickly to print and distribute 2020 U.S. Census forms without a citizenship question, after a divided Supreme Court on Thursday blocked inclusion of the question.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that the government's proffered reason for including the controversial question — enforcing the Voting Rights Act — was a pretext. Challengers argue the government wants to suppress the count of immigrants to diminish the strength of Democratic districts.
But President Trump, a Republican, vowed to try to delay the census “no matter how long,” while his administration fights the ruling in court.
Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin said that time is of the essence.
"Clearly at this point we can say the actual counting of the census is more important than this question, no matter what you think of this question,” Galvin, a Democrat, told WBUR. “Obviously, I think this [citizenship question] was an effort to sabotage [the count] and I was opposed to it.”
But, he added, with all of the controversy surrounding the government’s decision to add a citizenship question and amid a tense political climate, the risk of an under-count is already present.
“The atmosphere around immigration is so hostile," Galvin said, "that it’s going to be very difficult to persuade people who are non-citizens — even if they are legitimately in the Unites States — to respond to this.”
According to the Census Bureau's own estimates, a citizenship question would likely reduce responses among households with at least one non-citizen by at least 8 percentage points.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, one of 18 attorneys general who have challenged the citizenship question in court, celebrated the court's decision.
But she told a crowd in front of the State House after the ruling Thursday that Massachusetts is still at risk of losing federal funding and clout if all its estimated 1 million non-citizens are not counted.
“Immigrants are 17% of our population,” Healey said. “They are an economic driver and imperative. So this really matters.”
Trump decried the court's decision, tweeting: “I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter."
He added: “Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!"