Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker discusses the County's participation in the NAACP's lawsuit against the U.S. Census. Standing with Baker are (from left) Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's County NAACP branch, H. Elizabeth Johnson, and NAACP President Derrick Johnson. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker discusses the County's participation in the NAACP's lawsuit against the U.S. Census. Standing with Baker are (from left) Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's County NAACP branch, H. Elizabeth Johnson, and NAACP President Derrick Johnson. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

The NAACP has filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, the census Bureau and secretary of commerce to ensure minority populations are accurately counted in the 2020 census.

Prince George’s County, its NAACP branch and the branch President Bob Ross joined county resident H. Elizabeth Johnson in filing the suit on March 28 after Prince George’s experienced one of the highest undercounts in the nation at 2.3 percent in the 2010 census, according to the suit. The figure is based on counties with a population of at least 100,000.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson said a governor, several mayors and others also have expressed interest in joining the suit.

“This is a national case,” Johnson said. “Prince George’s County is the perfect example to show when you have a high-wealthy county, majority African-American, where the headquarters of the Census Bureau exists and yet they are still undercounted, it shows you the magnitude of the problem.”

Brad Berry, general counsel for the NAACP, said during a press conference at the National Press Club in northwest D.C. that the suit is unique because it preemptively seeks action before work on the 2020 census begins.

The lawsuit claims the federal government has decreased field tests and other resources and manpower needed for an accurate count. The suit also states the bureau doesn’t have sufficient staffing and also still has an acting director in Ron Jarmin, who’s also named as a defendant in the suit.

On Capitol Hill last month, the House approved $2.8 billion for the bureau, an increase of more than double the amount of the Trump administration’s request of $1.1 billion.

“Proposing a bill and passing a bill are two different things,” Johnson said. “Once the final bill passes, we would like to evaluate to see if it’s sufficient. We simply need the political will to make sure we have an accurate count for this [upcoming] census.”

The bureau plans to use digital technology to conduct the census for the first time, but the suit claims that half of households which earn less than $30,000 annually have access to the internet.

“A largely online census will likely have a devastating impact on communities that have low or little access to reliable broadband internet, many of which are communities of color and low-income households,” according to the suit. “Defendants’ design flaws, coupled with their insufficient funding, planning and staffing deficiencies, have left them unprepared for the challenges that digitization presents.”

A spokeswoman for the Suitland-based bureau deferred questions to the Department of Commerce, which oversees the bureau. A department representative for the didn’t respond to emails and a phone message for comment.

Meanwhile, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said his jurisdiction has lost about $200 million in federal money because of census undercounts. The Maryland jurisdiction of nearly 900,000 people borders D.C., with African Americans comprising 65 percent of its population.

Federal law requires citizens are counted in a decennial census that not only helps redraw political boundaries, but also for counties and states to receive federal money for improvement of schools, roads and other needs.

H. Elizabeth Johnson, a county resident since 1974, spoke of how federal dollars paid for opium to help calm her 36-year-old nephew, Jason Johnson, and enable him to speak. He resides in a group home for the mentally ill in neighboring Montgomery County.

However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instituted a law that drugs such as opium will not be distributed by the federal government.

“If [the group home] doesn’t get the money to do what they do, what’s going to happen to my Jason?” Johnson said. “It’s about educating people. You can’t do anything without money.”

The Latino population in Prince George’s is about 18 percent, but critics argue a proposed citizenship question in the 2020 census will deter legal immigrants from responding and distort the number of people counted in a jurisdiction.

“What’s more frightening about this census count more than in the past, is the rhetoric from the Trump administration,” Baker said after the press conference. “With a growing Latino population in the county, this is a direct assault on those folks participating in the census. If it’s happening here, then it’s happening everywhere.”

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