Trump Admin Faces Lawsuit Opposing Exclusion of Undocumented People From Census

“The constitutional mandate is clear—every person counts in the census. Undocumented immigrants are people—and nothing President Trump does or says changes that fact.”

So said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a statement Friday announcing that the legal organization and partners filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of immigrant rights groups challenging a memorandum that the president issued Tuesday seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York by the national ACLU, its affiliates in New York and Texas, and the law firm Arnold & Porter on behalf of ADC Research Institute, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, CASA, FIEL Houston, Make the Road New York, and the New York Immigration Coalition.

“Trump’s outrageous memo is an attempt to erase immigrants,” declared Theo Oshiro, deputy director of Make the Road New York. “Today, we are sending a clear message: All communities will be counted. We will keep organizing and fighting to ensure our communities receive the representation and resources that we deserve.”

Samer Khalaf, national president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, put the Trump’s effort into the broader context of his tenure as president.

“Trump’s memo is yet another attack on immigrants and communities of color,” said Khalaf. “His administration tells us time and time again—they do not see us all as equal persons. And we will not stand for that. We are working for an America where all humans are treated with dignity and respect.”

The immigrant rights groups represented by the ACLU aren’t alone in battling the president’s latest effort to “suppress the count and rig the census for partisan gain by cheating big, immigrant rich states like New York of federal resources and representation,” as Steve Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition put it.

A coalition of 21 state attorneys general, led by Letitia James of New York, also filed a suit Friday in response to Trump’s memo, which James described as “another election-year tactic to fire up his base by dehumanizing immigrants and using them as scapegoats for his failures as a leader.”

“No one ceases to be a person because they lack documentation,” James said, “which is why we filed this lawsuit.”

Echoing that message, César Espinosa of FIEL Houston said:

We as immigrants are a vital part of our communities. We as immigrants live in the shadows because of unjust immigration laws that refuse to accept us as full citizens of this country. We as immigrants will no longer stay silent when faced with these injustices. We want to be taken into account not only on the census but at the decision-making table in Congress. We are proud to join in this lawsuit because we cannot have taxation without representation. We are human beings who are a vital part of the fabric of America and we must be treated as such.

CASA executive director Gustavo Torres explained that with the suit filed by the ACLU, “we want to make sure that President Trump can’t erase this country’s millions of hard-working immigrants and cripple the regions that have welcomed them as neighbors.”

“The census—and our fight—is about ensuring that our communities are fully represented in this country,” Torres added. “We won before the Supreme Court when Trump tried to add a citizenship question to the census and we will win again to ensure a complete count in 2020.”

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. Ho of the ACLU, who successfully argued that case before the high court, also said Friday that “Trump tried once to weaponize the census against immigrant communities, and failed. He will fail again.”

The complaint filed Friday by the legal group says of the president’s memo:

This xenophobic effort to deny the basic humanity of undocumented immigrants violates Article I’s mandate to count all “persons” in the census, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state…” (emphasis added). These words leave no room for doubt: they expressly mandate counting “the whole number of persons” living in the United States for purposes of congressional apportionment. As the Supreme Court held just four years ago, “the Fourteenth Amendment calls for the apportionment of congressional districts based on total population,” including all non-citizens living in the United States, regardless of legal status.

With the Tuesday memo, said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman, “Trump is once again demonizing immigrants in a cynical ploy to deceive the public and squeeze resources and political power from states like New York.”

“Trump’s latest move to undermine the census is nothing more than a racist and anti-democratic Hail Mary,” she added. “He fell flat before and will fall even harder this time, because everyone counts, and everyone must be counted.”