Undocumented Immigrants Encouraged to Get Counted in Census Despite Trump Memo

Logo for the 2020 Census

If President Donald Trump has his way, Queens and its undocumented residents are down for the count in 2020 Census –– but not if local organizations have something to say about it.

The New York Immigration Coalition is encouraging undocumented immigrants to participate in the 2020 Census despite a memo issued yesterday by Trump that would exclude them from the part of the count that determines how many representatives a state can send to Congress. The memo, which only targets the apportionment base, is an unconstitutional ploy to discourage undocumented immigrants from getting counted, they said. 

“The real goal is to depress the Census count by trying to discourage immigrants from participating in the Census, to subvert our democracy by gerrymandering district lines and to ensure immigrant-rich states like New York, don’t get fair access to representation or their fair share of federal dollars,” said Steve Choi, the Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “It is another futile effort to interfere in the U.S. Census.” 

According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs 2019 “State of Our Immigrant City” report, which uses Census Bureau data from 2018, undocumented immigrants make up nearly 6% of New York City’s population. Nearly 40% of the city’s undocumented residents lives in Queens. 

Determining a state’s representation in Congress is just one way that the census numbers are used, said Meeta Anand, the Census 2020 Senior Fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition, making it important that no matter what, everyone gets counted. 

The memo does not affect federal funding dollars or how local and state governments use the Census data to draw their own district lines, she said, and once compiled, businesses will also use the data to determine where they want to locate. 

And it will be used to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, she said. 

“When we get a vaccine, the amount of vaccines that are sent to a community is based on census data,” she said. 

Despite all those other uses, however, if implemented, Trump’s memo will be a huge blow to state representation in federal policy, she said.

For centuries, the rules for determining representation have been based on the count of how many people live in the United States, said Meeta Anand, the Census 2020 Senior Fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition. There were two exceptions in the early years of the country –– the “three-fifths” rule where only three-fifths of slaves were counted, and the “Indians not taxed” rule which excluded Native Americans who were nomadic or lived on reservations. 

“Other than those very initial rules, it’s been about a count of all persons and using that count to determine the number of representatives,” said Anand. 

At its peak, New York State had 45 representatives in the House, she said. Now, it has 27 and after this census, it’s at risk of having 25. 

“Our ability to influence the overall policy of the nation is based on how much representation we have in D.C.,” she said. 

Queens lawmakers also condemned the memo calling it unconstitutional, and a maneuver by Trump to stir his political base by playing to anti-immigrant sentiments.

“President Trump’s action is not just immoral; it is unconstitutional,” said City Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst). “It is unconscionable that the President is once again attempting to weaponize the U.S. Census against our immigrant families. This action is little more than a campaign stunt, one that I believe will be thwarted by our judicial system and by voters this November.”

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D- Bayside, Flushing, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Rego Park) likened the memo to Trump’s attempt to get a citizenship question included on the census survey which many critics also called out as a tactic to decrease the census count. 

“I helped defeat that effort and I will do the same with his latest move to undermine the constitution and do further harm to immigrant communities,” said Meng. 

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Meng’s introduced legislation to block funds from going towards implementing Trump’s effort. The ‘No Funds for Apportionment Exclusion Act,’ which was introduced on Wednesday, has 48 co-sponsor so far, a release about the bill said.

“President Trump’s unconstitutional attempt to count some people instead of ALL people for reapportionment will fail just like his unsuccessful attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census,” she said. “Immigrants are part of the fabric of our nation, and we will not allow them to be kicked to the curb by this President.”