A non-profit group has filed a legal challenge to Donald Trump’s decision to block undocumented immigrants from being counted in the 2020 census.
The activist group, Common Cause, is seeking an injunction in the District Court for DC, claiming that Trump’s order violates the Constitution and federal laws. The complaint accuses Trump of using the order for “racial advantage and partisan political gain”.
“When our neighbours aren’t represented and included in all counts, entire communities lose out,” said the group’s census and mass incarceration project manager Keshia Morris Desir.
“Towns and cities across the country would be deprived of vital resources – public schools, firetrucks, and COVID-19 recovery – if millions of families are erased from census counts through the Administration’s attempted end-run around the United States Constitution.”
What is Trump trying to do?
President Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order that required census counts to be adjusted by excluding undocumented immigrants. The once-in-a-decade tally is used to allocate funding for various federal programmes and, crucially, to draw congressional districts and divide the seats in the House of Represenatives among the 50 states based on the size of their population in a process known as apportionment.
Trump contends that “states adopting policies that encourage illegal aliens to enter this country and that hobble Federal efforts to enforce the immigration laws passed by the Congress should not be rewarded with greater representation in the House.”
Why does it matter?
In effect, the order could shake up the House by shifting seats from states where there are more illegal immigrants, like Democrat-controlled California and divided Texas, to states with more white voters.
The US Constitution requires that “persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed,” are to be counted in the census. This includes non-citizens, whether documented or undocumented.
Trump insists that he has the power to exclude illegal aliens from the headcount because the constitutional definition has always been understood to mean “inhabitants” of each state, rather than individuals who are physically present in that state.
For example, he argues, foreign travellers who visit the US for business and tourism, as well as certain foreign diplomatic staff, have been traditionally excluded from the apportionment base.
“Determining which persons should be considered ‘inhabitants’ for the purpose of apportionment requires the exercise of judgment,” his order says. “The discretion delegated to the executive branch to determine who qualifies as an ‘inhabitant’ includes authority to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.”
Common Cause’s complaint says that Trump “purports to break with almost 250 years of past practice by excluding undocumented immigrants” from the apportionment process.
It adds: “President Trump’s Memorandum is not an isolated event. Rather, it is the culmination of a concerted effort, stretching back at least five years, to shift the apportionment base from total population to citizen population—a strategy intended, in the words of its chief architect, to enhance the political power of ‘Republicans and non-Hispanic whites’ at the expense of people of colour, chiefly Latinos.”
The Trump administration has previously attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but was forced to abandon the plan last July after it was quashed in the Supreme Court.
The president has also sought to delay the deadlines for the census because of the coronavirus pandemic. Field operations were suspended in mid-March and have been resumed across the nation since then, with the deadline for finish the headcount pushed from the end of July to mid-August.