Left: Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Right: John Yang, President and Executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Starting Aug. 11, census takers will begin knocking on the doors of households that have, so far, failed to respond to the Census questionnaire either online or by mail. 

However, President Donald Trump has continued action to derail the effort to fully consider the count of every person — including undocumented immigrants living in the United States — during the reapportionment process.  

The United States Supreme Court blocked Trump’s previous attempt to put a citizenship question on the census form (that would have discouraged undocumented immigrants from responding) and now Trump signed a presidential memorandum on July 21 to exclude the numbers of undocumented immigrants from being counted during next year’s reapportionment, when district lines are redrawn for congressional districts. 

Trump issued an exclusionary policy order seeking to bar undocumented immigrants from being considered in this process that is essential in determining the number of seats alloted to the House of Representatives [the number of congressional representatives that are needed in each state] and the amount of  federal funds that are provided.  

Trump’s order states: “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 City of Los Angeles, LAUSD and other California cities joined the state Attorney General’s office, which immediately filed a complaint against the President, calling his order “unconstitutional.” 

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he considered the Trump memorandum a move to “target” California specifically. Trump’s memo clearly appeared to reference the golden state.   

The Trump memo also stated:

“Current estimates suggest that one State is home to more than 2.2 million illegal aliens, constituting more than 6 percent of the State’s entire population. Including these illegal aliens in the population of the State for the purpose of apportionment could result in the allocation of two or three more congressional seats than would otherwise be allocated.” 

Using Trump’s methods of using “administrative data” from other departments to determine the number of undocumented immigrants following the final census count is likely to cause states, including California, to lose political representation.  

During a recent briefing held by Ethnic Media Services, public policy lawyers and community organizations expressed concern over Trump’s latest attempt to throw a wrench into an already daunting task of achieving an accurate census count of everyone — including undocumented immigrants. 

 Both Trump’s anti-immigrant pronouncements and COVID-19 recommendations to socially distance oneself could cause a significant undercount of people that could, in the end, impact the numbers of political representatives in underrepresented communities and create cuts to needed financial support.   

“The president is not asking for undocumented immigrants not to be counted in the census,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO).

“The policy memo is asking for the Department Secretary of Commerce, after the census is itself completed, to somehow remove [their numbers] from the count of every state [estimating] a certain amount of persons believed to be undocumented immigrants.”

But without considering the actual numbers reported by the census, the only way the Department of Commerce could arrive at the number of undocumented immigrants is by giving a calculated guess. 

“This amounts to nothing more than cooking the numbers, of making up an entire new data set on which to base the most important element of our democracy,” Vargas said

He explained that this kind of process would insure inequity by giving an inaccurate count. It would fail to take into consideration  those who are in the process of gaining citizenship.  

“Would this include a DACA recipient for example? Would this include someone seeking asylum and has not yet received residency in this country? Who determines who is undocumented and not?” asked Vargas. 

“This would amount to malapportionment of the House of Representatives, and it will be done in complete violation of the Constitution. The language of the Constitution says,‘To apportion the house of representative based on the whole number of persons.’ And that number comes from the census,” Vargas points out. 

To determine what constitutes undocumented status in itself often requires an expert lawyer who understands the different definitions of status in this country. The concerns raised by Vargas were repeated among those who work throughout ethnic communities. 

“The Constitution makes clear and understands the difference between citizens and persons. And the suggestion that somehow undocumented immigrants are not people or not persons flies in the face of logic, flies in the face of Supreme Court precedent and flies in the face of legislative history and policy of the United States of several hundred years,” said John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

Yang repeated the census message that encourages  everyone to be counted.  

“The goal hasn’t changed. The goal is to make sure that all of our communities are fairly and accurately counted,” Yang said. “Respond to the census regardless of immigration status. We are all counted, the census counts every person of the country, regardless of whether they are citizens and regardless of their immigration status.” 

All communities, he emphasized, need to complete the census form or make themselves available to answer questions without fear when a census taker comes to their door.