Federal Court Blocks Trump’s Order Forcing Voting Districts to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants

By Shani Saxon Sep 11, 2020

A federal court on Thursday (September 10) stopped the Trump administration from excluding immigrants of undocumented status from being counted in the 2020 census, which would affect congressional districts when they are redrawn next year, The Washington Post reports.

The process, which is called apportionment, measures the population to determine the number of legislators allocated to each state in the U.S. House of Representatives. Judges in this case said Trump’s order “would violate the statute governing congressional apportionment,” according to The Post.

Reports The Post:

A special three-judge panel out of New York wrote that the president’s argument that undocumented immigrants should not be counted runs afoul of a statute saying apportionment must be based on everyone who is a resident of the United States.

The judges found that all residents must be counted for apportionment purposes regardless of their legal status.

Thursday’s ruling says that Trump’s July 21 order was “an unlawful exercise of the authority granted to the President,” according to The Post. There is a very good chance that Trump’s team will appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court

As Colorlines reported in July, “Trump said in his order, ‘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.’”

Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was one of the attorneys arguing this case. In a conversation with The Post, he called Thursday’s ruling “a huge victory for voting rights and for immigrants’ rights.”

“President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponize the census against immigrant communities,” Ho continued. “The law is clear — every person counts in the census.”

Trump doesn’t want to count people of undocumented status in the 2020 census, but that doesn’t mean his administration wants to pretend they don’t exist. NPR reported on September 1 that the federal government is continuing to find new ways to target immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a proposal earlier this month that would allow the government to drastically expand “the government’s collection of biometric information from immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship,” according to NPR. This means the government could demand more personal information from people as part of the immigration application process. 

Reports NPR:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services currently requires biometrics, or biological measurements, from anyone over the age of 14 who applies for certain immigration benefits. That information is limited to fingerprints, photographs and signatures, but would be expanded under the proposed policy change to include DNA, eye scans, voice prints and photographs for facial recognition. 

Buzzfeed News obtained a draft of the proposal, which states the government could essentially repeatedly vet people by requesting biometrics from immigrants with green cards or work permits up until the point that they become citizens. 

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, told NPR this proposal is "stunningly unnecessary."

"They’re implementing this as if there’s some sort of rampant fraud going through the immigration system, with very little evidence to show for it," she said. 

According to NPR, Pierce said, "the new policy could subject millions of people to continued surveillance, and potentially have a chilling effect on family-based applications, because U.S. nationals and legal permanent residents may not be willing to go through invasive biometrics exams to sponsor relatives for a green card."

The ACLU released a statement about the proposal, stating the Trump administration is "once again, trying to radically change America’s immigration system" by collecting unprecedented personal information and potentially storing it even after immigrants become citizens," as NPR reports. 

Andrea Flores, ACLU’s deputy director of immigration policy, spoke to NPR about the major implications of a proposal like this one. "Collecting a massive database of genetic blueprints won’t make us safer," she said. "It will simply make it easier for the government to surveil and target our communities and to bring us closer to a dystopian nightmare."