Trump Is Trying To Weaponize The U.S. Census Against Undocumented Immigrants

Even amidst a global pandemic, the Trump administration seems serious about taking away people’s rights. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum that would exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in congressional districts when district lines are redrawn next year. The executive order would impact the power each state has in the House of Representatives, which is based around population.

“There used to be a time when you could proudly declare, ‘I am a citizen of the United States. But now, the radical left is trying to erase the existence of this concept and conceal the number of illegal aliens in our country,” Trump said in a statement about the executive order on Tuesday. “This is all part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of Americans citizens, and I will not stand for it. […] My Administration will not support giving congressional representation to aliens who enter or remain in the country unlawfully, because doing so would create perverse incentives and undermine our system of government.”

In addition to targeting immigrants, however, this move also goes against the Constitution, which says that congressional representation is not based around citizenship, but “the whole Number of free Persons.” By trying to change this, it seems Trump is using the Census to stoke fear and once again move to reduce the political power of immigrants in their own communities.

With district maps set to be redrawn in 2021, redistricting will have a serious impact on how elections are won, who can be represented in Congress, and which laws are passed in the future. To say that leaving immigrants out of that would seriously tilt the balance of power in this country, even more than before, would be an understatement.

This memorandum comes in the middle of the 2020 U.S. Census, with reports showing that 62.2% of the country has already responded since April. Besides impacting community power in the future, this move might also scare immigrants who haven’t yet responded away from answering the Census. 

But as quickly as the order was signed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) already has plans to challenge the memo. Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, responded in a statement, saying, “We’ll see him in court, and win, again.” Ho said he’s confident that Trump’s “latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional.”

This is not the first time Trump has used the Census to advance his anti-immigrant agenda either. In 2019, he attempted to get a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census at the Supreme Court. States like California and New York argued that the question would turn immigrant communities away from answering and cost state governments critical funding.

At the time, Trump also suggested that data could be used to more properly redraw districts based on the number of eligible voters within them. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected the attempt to put a citizenship question on the survey. This latest memorandum only seems to be a continuation of that effort to suppress immigrant communities’ participation in government.

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