Livingston recently took a stand against including a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census, which has not asked about immigration status since 1950.
The City Council approved a resolution with a 4-0 vote to oppose the question because it could put a damper on getting an accurate count, city leaders said. The count is used to determine federal funding in communities, among other purposes.
The proposal to add the question has fueled worries among advocates that it will discourage immigrants from participating in the survey, thereby diluting representation for states that tend to vote Democratic and robbing many communities of federal dollars. A coalition of about two dozen states and cities have sued the U.S. government in New York to block the plan, calling it unconstitutional.
In Livingston, a town of about 14,000, about 46 percent were born in another country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 85 percent of Livingston residents older than age 5 speak a language other than English, the census bureau says. About 73 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
Councilmember Alex McCabe said an accurate count is vital for getting the correct representation in Congress, and noted businesses will commonly look at the Census before deciding to set up shop.
"We don't want to lose business because people were scared to answer the citizen question," he said on Sunday.
Livingston was also the only city in Merced County, and one of the first in the state, to declare itself a sanctuary.
Cities like Farmersville and San Joaquin, both agricultural communities with large immigrant populations, have also opposed the question, according to Samuel Molina, director of Mi Familia Vota in California.
Molina said the count has effects on schools, health care, infrastructure and many other federal programs. "A loss in funding is detrimental to our community," he said.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman made a ruling that a legal challenge can go forward during a July 3 hearing in federal court in Manhattan after citing contradictory statements by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about the rationale for a plan to send a census form to every household that asks people to specify whether they are U.S. citizens.
Ross, who oversees the census, had originally said he wanted the citizenship question asked for the first time since 1950 at the behest of the Justice Department so it could better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But in a court filing, Ross later said he came up with the idea in consultation with various government officials before seeking DOJ support for it.
Brett Shumate, a deputy assistant attorney general, argued that the plaintiffs were relying on a "speculative chain of inferences" to support the suit's claim that adding the citizenship question would result in an "undercount" of people. The government has ways to ensure an accurate census, he said.
The commerce secretary "has those procedures in place and plans to count every person in America," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.