A federal court has halted an order from the Trump Administration excluding undocumented immigrants from the census, causing those who were worried the order would affect states' representation in Congress and deter immigrants from participating in the census to breathe a sigh of relief.
A panel of three judges for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York unaminously ruled Thursday that President Donald Trump's memorandum to withhold the number of undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census count was an overreach of power. Nevada has the highest proportion of undocumented immigrants of any state, making up 7 percent of the population in 2016, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center report.
In one of the two lawsuits filed against the president, the court handed down an injunction stopping the order, citing ramifications that "could resonate for a decade."
"We declare the Presidential Memorandum to be an unlawful exercise of the authority granted to the President by statute," the ruling reads.
Attorney General Aaron Ford, who joined the coalition of more than 35 states, cities and counties and the United States Conference of Mayors suing the president in late July, announced the court's decision in a tweet Friday.
"Like I said before, EVERYBODY counts," he tweeted.
The memorandum ordered Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, head of the agency that oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, to present the president with the count of the entire U.S. population and the count of the population excluding those "who are not in a lawful immigration status" to be used for congressional apportionments, the process for dividing the 435 seats in the House every 10 years based on the census.
Trump argued in the memorandum that excluding undocumented immigrants from the numbers determining apportionments was more consistent with the principles of a reprentative democracy.
"Affording congressional representation, and therefore formal political influence, to states on account of the presence within their borders of aliens who have not followed the steps to secure a lawful immigration status under our laws undermines those principles," the memorandum states.
Plaintiffs argued in the complaint that the order is unconstitutional, violating the Fourteenth Amendment protection that "all persons born or naturalized" in the U.S., which the Supreme Court has historically included undocumented immigrants in this category, cannot be denied their rights.
The Constitution requires a decennial count of the "whole number of persons in each state" to determine congressional apportionment.
"Legislative history and settled practice confirm our conclusion that 'persons in each state' turns solely on residency, without regard for legal status," the ruling reads.
Plaintiffs also argued that excluding undocumented immigrants would negatively affect states' approtionments.
A Pew Research Center report estimates that California, Texas and Florida would likely lose a seat in the House if undocumented immigrants are not included in the count for approptionments. Alabama, Ohio and Minnesota would likely retain a seat they would have lost. Nevada is not expected to gain a seat either way.
The court labeled that argument as "hypothetical" but determined that plaintiffs' argument that the memorandum deters participation in the census was justified.
Nonprofit leaders have said that the memorandum has led many undocumented immigrants to be concerned about filling out the census or refuse to fill it out because of fears that the information will be used against them and because they feel participation is meaningless if they won't be counted for apportionment, according to the ruling.
Court documents state that this mistrust extends to all noncitizens and their families and may cause an inaccurate census.
"The Memorandum’s chilling effect on census participation will likely also degrade the census data, harming state and local governments that rely on the data to carry out their public functions," the ruling readings.
Several states have had to fund additional education campaigns to address confusion from the memorandum and misinformation about the census, according to the rule. Inaccurate counts would affect appropriation of funds not on the national level, but also on the state level as some states use census data to allocate funds to counties and cities.
The census is scheduled to end Sept. 30, a month earlier than expected, but lawsuits over the change in deadline announced in the beginning of August have temporarily halted the winding down of data collection at least until a hearing on Sept. 17.