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Federal Court Blocks Trump Order to Exclude Illegal Immigrants from Census Count

A person holds census information at a Census Town Hall event at the Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens, N.Y., February 22, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

A federal court in New York on Thursday blocked President Trump’s order to exclude illegal immigrants from being counted in the census for the purpose of redrawing congressional districts.

A three-judge panel wrote that the president’s July 21 memorandum would violate a statute that says apportionment must be based on the number of U.S. residents in a given district, which the judges said encompasses everyone living there, regardless of legal status.

“The Presidential Memorandum violates the statutes governing the census and apportionment in two clear respects,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “First, pursuant to the virtually automatic scheme established by these interlocking statutes, the Secretary is mandated to report a single set of numbers — “[t]he tabulation of total population by States” under the decennial census — to the President, and the President, in turn, is required to use the same set of numbers in connection with apportionment.”

The ruling, which came as a result of a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James along with 20 attorneys general, 14 cities and counties across the country, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, found the president’s order to be “an unlawful exercise of the authority granted to the President.” 

The ruling blocked the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau from adding information about the number of illegal immigrants in their reports to the president after the 2020 Census count is completed. 

The judges wrote that Trump’s memo “has created, and is likely to create, widespread confusion among illegal aliens and others as to whether they should participate in the census,” adding that the “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 director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project celebrated the win in a statement on Thursday.

“This is a huge victory for voting rights and for immigrants’ rights. President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponize the census against immigrant communities,” said director Dale Ho. “The law is clear — every person counts in the census.”

The ruling is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Census has been the source of other legal troubles as the Census Bureau abruptly announced on August 3 it would end its count on September 30, a month before it had been scheduled to conclude in light of an extension brought in April due to the pandemic. Lawmakers and senior bureau officials have expressed concern that the new deadline will lead to an inaccurate count.

The ruling came hours after a federal judge gave the administration three days to produce all internal documents and communications from between mid-April to August 3.

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