On the 21st of July 2020, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum that would exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in congressional districts. This comes with the purpose of redrawing congressional districts, as unauthorized immigrants living in the United States will be excluded from census population counts. The White House justified these changes by claiming that by law, the president can determine who is counted in the census.
Today, states draw congressional districts and determine the areas that each elected official represents. This is based on aspects like a state’s total population and its population of unauthorized immigrants. After the 2020 census comes in, current maps will be redrawn across the nation – thus far 62% of the country has responded to the census. This reconfiguration will impact who will win elections, which communities will be represented in Congress, and what laws will ultimately be approved. Trump’s goal appears to be to reduce the counts of unauthorized immigrants in Democrat-ruled cities in order to undermine their political voice relative to Republic-ruled spaces. This will also certainly have an impact on Republican-led states like Texas, where there is a significant immigrant population.
Additionally, this memorandum will discourage immigrants from responding to the census if they have yet to do so. For months, community organizations and immigrant advocacy groups in the U.S. have pushed immigrants to participate in the census, regardless of status. Because census counts often determine federal funding, immigrant-majority communities will consequently be most negatively hurt, as they will lose funding for schools, infrastructure, and other community projects if they do not complete the census.
Note that the Constitution says congressional representation is allocated based on “the whole Number of free persons,” and not the number of American citizens.
As Nicole Narea writes in Vox News, Trump has politicized the U.S. Census in previous years. In June 2019, Trump fought to put a question regarding citizenship status on the 2020 census, although he lost his bid at the Supreme Court.
This marks the Administration’s latest effort to advance Trump’s immigration agenda, altering the ways in which U.S. populations are counted and supported. Blocking unauthorized immigrants from census counts will minimize these groups’ political weight. This executive order comes during a wave of other orders issued by the president that have restricted immigration.
Many actors plan on challenging the memorandum, including the American Civil Liberties Union. Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, announced in a statement, “[Trump’s] latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional. We’ll see him in court, and win, again.”