Trump signs order to exclude undocumented immigrants from census, how will it affect electoral politics?

Trump signs order to exclude undocumented immigrants from census, how will it affect electoral politics?
(Getty Images)

In a key development on Tuesday, July 21, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum that looks to exclude undocumented immigrants from counting in Congressional districts when their lines undergo redrawing next year. This is being seen as the administration’s latest effort to change the way America’s population is counted and advance the president’s anti-immigration agenda. This move is also much likely to end up in court like the previous ones.

“I have accordingly determined that respect for the law and protection of the integrity of the democratic process warrant the exclusion of illegal aliens from the apportionment base, to the extent feasible and to the maximum extent of the President's discretion under the law,” the new executive order signed by the president says.

The memo has asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to include in the ‘legally required’ report of census results to the president “information permitting the President, to the extent practicable” to leave out the number of immigrants living in the US without authorization from the apportionment count, a National Public Radio report said.


A Border Patrol agent gathers personal effects from immigrants before they were transferred to a McAllen processing center on July 02, 2019, in Los Ebanos, Texas. (Getty Images)

The move by the president, who does not enjoy final authority over the census, is likely to lead to legal and political battles in the run-up to the presidential election in November. The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has planned to challenge the new memo. Dale Ho, the director of the body’s Voting Rights Project, has suggested this in a statement, CNN reported.

“(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,” Ho said.

The census is currently underway amid the coronavirus challenges and so far, a little over 62 percent have responded to it, which has been going on for months. While officials have already found the battle to convince immigrant communities to take part in the process a tough one, the president’s fresh announcement is set to make it further daunting as communities that decided to come forward could back out again. Advocacy groups and community organizations fear that the administration’s latest move will deter the immigrants from responding and it will eventually result in shortage of fundings for community services. 

Immigration advocacy group CASA said in a statement: “The Trump administration's action today is even more clearly unconstitutional, as they seek not just to chill participation from noncitizens, but literally to remove them from the final numbers.” It said it will fight the administration in the court on the issue again and ensure that everyone is counted under the 2020 Census. 


Impact on elections

The states currently draw their Congressional districts, determining the areas that each elected official represents based on the total population, including the immigrants who are unauthorized. Current maps are due to be drawn across the nation in 2021 after the results of the 2020 census come in. Stakes are high in this procedure since each redrawing has a lasting influence on who is likely to emerge winner in the elections and which communities will be represented in the Congress and what laws the representatives of such communities pass. The year 2021 will see a number of off-year elections for governors, mayors and state legislatures besides other local polls. 


The administration's effort to exclude undocumented immigrants would bring down the counts in areas where foreign-born people have traditionally settled, mainly the Democratic-run cities, and that threatens their political power relative to the Republican Party-influenced areas, mainly the rural. But Trump's order could also see consequences for the GOP in red states that have large number of immigrant people, like Texas. 


Not the first time

In June 2019, the president tried to use the Census to target immigrants but his effort to raise a question about the citizenship status on the 2020 Census at the Supreme Court hit a wall. States like California and New York said such a question would discourage the immigrant communities’ response rate and hit their governments’ federal funding. Trump though tried to argue that citizenship data would help the justice department's efforts on prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

The legal experts were critical of Trump’s latest move as well. Michael Li, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, questioned how the federal government would determine whether somebody is not documented. “The Constitution requires counting everyone -- children, immigrants, everyone -- it doesn't have exclusions based on legal status,” CNN quoted him as saying.


Opponents slam move

Trump’s new executive order received a backlash from the political opponents though there were supporting voices from his own party. Here are some responses: Raul Grijalva, a Democratic representative from Arizona, tweeted: “This executive order is unconstitutional and only serves the purpose to please Trump’s base & stoke anti-immigrant reactions. Trump is just deflecting from his epic failures and should stop attacking the integrity of the Census to score political points.”

California’s Democratic Representative Juan Vargas said in a tweet: “Our communities will not be silenced. I encourage everyone to participate in the Census…”

Zack Ford, press secretary at Alliance for Justice, said in a tweet: “Seriously, you need to pay attention to today's executive order on the census. It's basically Trump's latest way of saying the government is only for white people. The Constitution says "all persons" but then Trump responds he decides who actually counts.”

New Jersey Democratic Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman tweeted: “The Constitution is clear: the 'whole number of persons in each state' shall be counted. This includes everyone regardless of status or background. I will do all I can to stop this but keep in mind: This is nothing more than a hateful campaign stunt.”

Alabama’s Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall sided with the president to say in a tweet: “President Trump Delivers Victory for AG Marshall and Alabama through Executive Order Prohibiting Illegal Immigrants from Being Counted in 2020 Census.”


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