Missed Census Deadline Will Keep Trump Administration from Excluding Undocumented Immigrants

Undocumented immigrants won't be excluded from 2020 Census data due to the Trump administration missing yet another deadline to deliver the apportionment numbers to Congress.

During a Department of Justice court hearing yesterday, lawyers said the likely timeline for the delivery of the apportionment numbers will be March 6 rather than January 20, according to Sarah Brannon, a managing attorney with the National American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. Because the COVID-19 pandemic shortened their data review timeline, the Bureau missed the original December 31 deadline and needs additional weeks to conduct its analysis.

This change in date means that President-elect Joe Biden would have the opportunity to repeal Trump's July 2020 memo directing the Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment data.

"What the Trump administration was proposing to do was to come up with a separate calculation of where undocumented individuals reside at the state level in the United States to then remove them from the total population numbers," Brannon said to Newsweek. "What will happen is the current presidential memorandum is repealed and then the Census Bureau has no directive to create that alternative number."

Without that other number factored in, information of where undocumented immigrants reside in the U.S. will not be available to the Biden administration. Instead, Biden will only see the total population of illegal residents in each state. According to Brannon, the designation will have lasting effects as the numbers are used to determine federal spending and assign the number of congressional seats each state receives.

The US Census
Closeup of United States Census 2020 form informational copy and a ballpoint pen on wooden background.

"The most important part of counting illegal immigrants is that they use local services," said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek. "There are federal government formulas that use census data to determine money that goes down as low as counties."

Undocumented immigrants account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, or roughly 11 million people, according to Kamarck. She added that population numbers, rather than citizenship data, are more important when allocating monies for public services such as water or energy.

"You do have to base federal aid to the states and localities on population, purely not citizenship status," Kamarck said. She added that the drafters of the Constitution would have counted population size rather than citizenship when taking the Census, but Trump has used this issue to create a political flashpoint out of a relatively small group of people.

"It is highly politicized out of proportion to its importance of the functioning of the U.S. government," Kamarck said.

In early summer 2020, the Trump administration embraced a Census Bureau recommendation to push the deadline for the apportionment numbers to April 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But then Trump reversed course and released the memorandum calling for the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the Census data.

"This has been unprecedented behavior by a U.S. president to politicize mechanisms of collecting data, which is very detrimental," Brannon said. She added that the Trump administration's politics have made information surrounding how the data being analyzed by the Bureau and when the results can be expected increasingly vague.

Lawsuits against Trump's directive ensued, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided last month to table a decision as to whether it was lawful to exclude undocumented immigrants, citing it was "premature." In December, Biden expressed his support of counting total population numbers without accounting for citizenship.

"The Supreme Court of the United States heard a case about whether everyone in America will be counted in the Census for the purpose of apportionment of Congressional seats, as the Constitution plainly and clearly requires. Or whether the partisan politics of intimidation and xenophobia will intentionally exclude specific groups of people from being counted," Biden said at the time.

The apportionment of seats is extremely important because when states lose representation in the House, they are likely to lose federal funding for vital services, too, Brannon said.

"If the directive had been implemented as intended, there would have been an impact on the total population count that would have caused the states of Texas, California and New Jersey to lose a Congressional seat they would have otherwise been entitled to," Brannon said.

She said she hopes the Bureau can increase transparency measures moving forward to increase accountability.

"This has become one of those hot-button issues in politics that some people got really exercised over," Kamarck said. "In the scheme of things, it's not the most important issue before America. Trump managed to use this in order to focus all of the grievances of his supporters on a scapegoat. The reality of the numbers doesn't comport with the rhetoric that's been attached to this."

Newsweek did not receive a reply to a request for comment from the U.S. Census Bureau before publication.