Arlington County joins legal challenge to census citizenship question

Arlington County is joining a legal challenge targeting one of the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies, and moving closer to filing a lawsuit targeting pharmaceutical companies as well.

The County Board voted unanimously last Wednesday, July 18, to move ahead with the legal action, after consulting with county lawyers behind closed doors.

The county now plans to lend its support to a case filed by the state of Alabama in federal court to block the Commerce Department from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the move back in March, and it’s since been roundly criticized as one that would discourage undocumented immigrants from responding to the census over fears their information could be used to target them for deportation.

Since census data is used to determine boundaries of congressional districts and hand out federal money based on population counts, the citizenship question has also earned condemnations as an effort to disadvantage states with large numbers of immigrants. Arlington, for instance, had roughly 29,400 non-citizens living in the county through 2016, according to census data. That was equivalent to roughly 13 percent of the county’s total population, one of the highest margins in the country.

The county is also retaining the services of some outside lawyers to explore the possibility of joining dozens of other localities in suing drug manufacturers over fallout from the opioid crisis. Arlington recorded a 245 percent spike in patients seeking treatment for addiction to drugs like heroin and fentanyl from 2015 to 2017, and any lawsuit would seek to secure damages against pharmaceutical companies involved in flooding the market with prescription drugs that can often lead to addiction.

However, the Board would need to approve the specifics of any opioid lawsuit before the county moves forward with legal action.

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