Trump’s census directive prompts emergency hearing
During a Tết event, Vietnamese residents received information about the upcoming census. Photo courtesy of Census 2020 San Jose Counts.

Washington D.C. — The Committee on Oversight and Reform recently convened an emergency hearing to discuss President Donald Trump’s efforts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the base count used to redistribute congressional seats after the census.

“The president’s direction is unconstitutional,” said Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney. “It is illegal, and it disregards the precedent set by every other president, beginning with President George Washington.”

The Democratic congresswoman from New York explained the U.S. Census Bureau will soon be visiting the homes of those who have not yet responded to the census. The president’s actions may have confused or intimidated many immigrants, she said, and some may now refuse to participate out of fear.

Maloney said this would throw off the count and ultimately harm communities.

The president signed a memorandum July 21 directing the Secretary of Commerce to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count for apportionment purposes.

“Excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of government,” it states. “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.”

At the July 29 hearing, the committee heard testimonies from four of the Census Bureau’s former directors who warned that the president’s memorandum would likely discourage immigrants from participating.

Vincent Barabba, who served as director from 1973-1976 and 1979-1981, said he believed the president wanted to deter immigrants from filling out a census form so less people would be counted in states with large minority populations that are less likely to support his policies or presidency. These areas would then have their congressional representation reduced.

“It will be up to the Congress and the press to make sure that the disinformation being created by the president be addressed forcefully and that his true motivation be made clear,” he said.

Barabba explained that all immigrants must understand they have nothing to fear from filling out a census form. Violating the confidentiality of a respondent is a federal crime, he said, one that is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University, also testified. He told lawmakers he did not believe the president’s directive was unconstitutional.

“Representation in the national government was not apportioned among the states based on the total number of people who happened to be present in the state at any given moment, but only on that part of the population which comprises or becomes part of the body politic,” he wrote in his opening statement. “…They (undocumented immigrants) owe allegiance to another sovereign, and are therefore no part of this body politic.”

The committee also heard from current Bureau Director Steven Dillingham. He said he was not told in advance about the president’s memorandum, but that it would not change the bureau’s outreach efforts or data collection operations.

As the hearing concluded, Maloney said she still believed the Trump administration was interfering with the census process for its own political gain.

“I hope that you will live up to the standards of professionalism,” she told Dillingham.

The president’s memorandum immediately garnered criticism from Democratic lawmakers nationwide. Both California — which is home to more than 2 million undocumented immigrants — and San Jose have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration to block the new policy from taking effect.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, condemned the president’s actions on social media.

“The president is unlawfully trying to change the census count through executive fiat,” she wrote in a Twitter post. “Unfortunately, the administration’s anti-immigrant zeal and desire to divide us as a nation knows no bounds.”’

Even prior to the president’s announcement, Santa Clara County officials had concerns about conducting an accurate census count. In addition to losing congressional seats, an under-count could lead to a loss of millions of dollars for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Section 8 vouchers.

But County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg previously told the San Jose Spotlight that many of Santa Clara’s residents may still be reluctant to participate.

“I think undocumented community members are more likely to be fearful of completing government forms; understandably so,” she said. “If you live here in Santa Clara County, you count. We want to count you. We value you.”

Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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