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Biden Issues Executive Order Overturning Plans to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants in Decennial Census

MONDAY, JAN 25, 2021

President Joe Biden, who took office Wednesday with a lengthy list of executive orders designed to overturn Trump-era policies that ranged from the global fight against climate change to mandate that people wear masks on federal property for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t forget the 2020 Census.

Hours after being sworn in as the 46th president, Biden issued an executive order overturning Trump plans to exclude undocumented immigrants from being included in the decennial headcount. The order by the former president, which was contested heavily in courts, would have favored states with small Hispanic populations while penalizing Democratic strongholds such as California and New York.

“At no point since our Nation’s Founding has a person’s immigration status alone served as a basis for excluding that person from the total population count used in apportionment,” Biden said in the order. “During the 2020 Census, the President announced a policy that broke from this long tradition … This policy conflicted with the principle of equal representation enshrined in our Constitution, census statutes, and historical tradition.”

The decennial Census is used to determine the number of congressional seats assigned to each state; the data also helps guide $1.5 trillion in federal spending and serve as the basis for political boundaries such as legislative districts.

Trump ran in 2016 on a nationalist platform that demonized immigrants, especially people from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries. Former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in March 2018 that the 2020 Census questionnaire would include a query about citizenship status, which had never been asked of everyone on the Census in U.S. history.  Although Ross claimed that the information was necessary to fully enforce the Voting Rights Act, documents released in mid-2019 revealed that the Justice Department’s justification for the policy had been written by Thomas Hofeller, a Republican gerrymandering expert whose analyses showed the question would help GOP candidates. Both Ross and former Attorney General William Barr were held in contempt by the House of Representatives for refusing to provide all documents about the question.

A lawsuit led by New York and joined by 17 states wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in June 2019 that Ross’s claims were “contrived.” Trump followed the ruling by issuing an executive order that required the Census Bureau to obtain citizenship data through records from other federal agencies. Although Trump tried again in July 2020 to order the Commerce Department to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census, a federal district court found he exceeded his authority; the Supreme Court ruled the case was premature, since the Census Bureau did not know if they could do a count of the undocumented.

Largely because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau was unable to fulfill a requirement that a full population count be provided to the president by Dec. 31. The figures now aren’t expected to be ready before March 6 or even later. Last week, career Census Bureau officials ordered a team producing a state count of undocumented immigrants and to use administrative records to document citizenship status to stop their work, putting an end to Trump’s hopes of using the Census for political gain.


Author: Frank Bass

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