69ºF

Trump effort to exclude undocumented immigrants when congressional seats are divvied up blocked by federal court

A panel of federal judges deemed the Trump push to exclude undocumented immigrants from the base population used to distribute seats in Congress was an “unlawful exercise of authority granted to the President.” || Credit: REUTERS
A panel of federal judges deemed the Trump push to exclude undocumented immigrants from the base population used to distribute seats in Congress was an “unlawful exercise of authority granted to the President.” || Credit: REUTERS

A three-judge federal panel in New York has ruled that the Trump administration cannot keep undocumented immigrants from being counted when lawmakers reapportion congressional districts next year — an effort that could have potentially cost Texas several seats in Congress.

In a significant departure from the way representation is typically divided up, President Donald Trump in July signed a memorandum directing Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to exclude undocumented immigrants from the base population used to distribute seats in Congress. But in its Thursday ruling, the panel of judges deemed the memo an “unlawful exercise of authority granted to the President.”

The constitutionally mandated count each 10 years of every person residing in the country is used to determine congressional representation from each state. Excluding undocumented residents from the counts used to parcel out congressional districts would likely lead to a drastic realignment of political power throughout Texas.

Trump pursued the change by arguing that the U.S. Constitution does not define “which persons must be included” in that base population. But the New York panel of judges blocked Ross, who oversees the census, from providing any information on the number of undocumented people in each state.

Texas now has 36 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, in districts which are supposed to be drawn to nearly equal population. Recent estimates indicate the size of the undocumented population in Texas has reached nearly 1.8 million. The state is projected to gain several more seats in the next redistricting round based on population growth — but that depends on achieving an accurate count in the ongoing census.

The memo marked the latest push by Trump to differentiate between citizens and noncitizens when states redraw political districts to account for growth. His attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census was shot down by the courts. His July memo raised questions about what data lawmakers would use to determine how to exclude undocumented residents from the census totals.

The issue could still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.