President Trump signed an executive action Tuesday to prevent illegal immigrants from being included in the 2020 census for congressional apportionment, saying the U.S. shouldn’t give political power “to people who should not be here at all.”
The president said for the purposes of determining the number of House lawmakers from each state, it will be U.S. policy “to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.”
He signed the order in the Oval Office without a ceremony or the presence of news media.
“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,” the president said. “This is all part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of American citizens, and I will not stand for it.”
Democrats criticized the move as anti-immigrant and vowed to fight the administration in court. House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney, New York Democrat, said her panel will hold an emergency hearing on the census next week and consider steps to block Mr. Trump’s action.
“President Trump will stop at nothing to politicize our democratic institutions and harm entire communities for his own political interests,” Mrs. Maloney said. “Taking this step right in the middle of the ongoing census is particularly egregious and sinister because it appears purposefully designed to depress the count, deter people from filling out their forms, and corrupt the democratic processes on which our nation is founded.”
This year’s census started in March, and the Census Bureau said last month that more than 90 million households had responded. People can respond online, over the phone or by mail. In the past week, door-knockers started heading out to households that hadn’t answered the questionnaire.
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the Constitution requires that “everyone in the U.S. be counted in the census.”
“President Trump can’t pick and choose,” Mr. Ho said. “He tried to add a citizenship question to the census and lost in the Supreme Court. His 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.”
The Supreme Court blocked the administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census form. A majority of justices said the administration’s rationale for the citizenship question — to help enforce voting rights — appeared to be contrived.
It’s not clear how much impact the president’s action will have as a practical matter because of expected court challenges and administrative difficulties in carrying out the order, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. But he said Mr. Trump’s move “calls attention to something that matters very much.”
“This order reminds us that tolerating illegal immigration has a cascading series of consequences for the country,” Mr. Camarota said in an interview. “One of which is that American citizens lose political representation in Congress and the Electoral College in order to create districts that contain a lot of illegal immigrants.”
A Center for Immigration Studies report in December said Alabama, Ohio and Minnesota each would lose one House seat if illegal immigrants are included in the 2020 census. California, New York and Texas each would gain one seat.
“Their impact is not confined to the House of Representatives and the Electoral College,” Mr. Camarota said. “It affects every state house, every state senate. And it affects the way you draw every district, for county commissioners, for your city council, for your local sewer authority and school board. Every place where there’s a district and political representation is handed out, the inclusion of illegal immigrants means that American citizens have to lose political representation.”
Although each state draws its own congressional districts, Mr. Camarota said, the regions that gain political representation from illegal immigrants “are overwhelmingly Democratic.”
Estimates of the unauthorized population range from 10 million to more than double that. The Obama administration’s director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said there could be 15 million. The federal government doesn’t know, and determining the number of illegal immigrants in each state is even more difficult.
Therefore, Mr. Trump said, they should be excluded “to the extent feasible, and to the maximum extent of the president’s discretion under the law.”
His order portrays illegal immigration, sanctuary cities and other liberal immigration policies as schemes to unfairly boost Democrats’ representation in the House. Without naming states specifically, the president takes aim especially at California.
“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 of Representatives,” Mr. Trump said. “Current estimates suggest that one state is home to more than 2.2 million illegal aliens, constituting more than 6% 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.”
The nation’s most populous state has 53 House members, six of whom are Republican. In 2018, California had an estimated 2.3 million illegal immigrants.
But the National Immigration Forum said of the 10 states with the greatest percentage increases in immigrant population from 2010 to 2016, eight voted for Mr. Trump in 2016.
It’s also not clear how Mr. Trump’s order would count younger illegal immigrants who were granted protection from deportation by President Obama under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. There were nearly 700,000 active DACA recipients as of 2017.
In the memorandum to the Commerce Department, Mr. Trump said the Constitution does not specifically define which people should be counted every 10 years to determine the number of each state’s representatives in the House.
“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,” he said.
The president said he is fulfilling a pledge he made last year “to determine the citizenship status of the United States population.”
“There used to be a time when you could proudly declare, ‘I am a citizen of the United States,’” Mr. Trump said. “But now, the radical left is trying to erase the existence of this concept and conceal the number of illegal aliens in our country.”
The Constitution requires a count of the U.S. population every 10 years. Section 2 of the 14th Amendment says “representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.”
Congress directed the Commerce Department to carry out the job of counting the population. The commerce secretary then transmits to the president the report of his count of the total population for the apportionment of the House’s 435 seats.
Mr. Trump noted that the president, by law, makes the final determination regarding the “whole number of persons in each state,” which determines the number of representatives apportioned to each state, and sends that information to Congress.
Mr. Trump said the requirement “has never been understood to include in the apportionment base every individual physically present within a state’s boundaries at the time of the census.”
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said the census affects the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding annually for “critical resources such as food assistance, medical supplies for COVID-19 recovery, youth programs and affordable housing.”
“This memorandum by President Trump is a blatant attempt to skew how electoral districts are drawn, instill fear and chaos in immigrant communities, and send a message to his white supremacist base,” she said.
Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration, said in a Twitter post that the president’s action is “patently unconstitutional, fear-mongering.” She said the Constitution is clear that “the census must count every single person in our nation regardless of status or background.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called it “an unconstitutional order that has no purpose other than to silence and disempower Latino voices and communities of color.”
“Trump wants to strip these communities of their fair share of representation and resources for education, health care, and nutrition assistance,” Mr. Perez said in a statement. “But Democrats will not let this stand. We will keep fighting Trump’s efforts to intimidate and undercount immigrant communities. And we will put an end to the hateful tactics of this administration once and for all on November 3rd when we elect Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.”