CLC Reveals Internal Trump Administration Strategies To Exclude Immigrants from Census

A group of people infant of the step of the Supreme Court holding signs saying "Count Everyone"
Demonstrators hold a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. on June 6, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Photo by Casey Atkins/Campaign Legal Center.

After litigation brought by Campaign Legal Center (CLC), the Census Bureau produced a briefing memo for former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about the bureau’s plan for estimating the undocumented immigrant population.

This was the first public disclosure showing the extent to which the Trump administration made efforts to carve out the undocumented population from the Census.

NBC News exclusively covered CLC’s release of this document.

The internal briefing memo includes a strategic analysis on three options that the bureau considered using to carry out the Trump administration’s mandate to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count.

The memo reveals that the methods the Trump administration identified for attempting to count undocumented immigrants were either inaccurate or illegal—or both. More importantly, the memo also demonstrates that the administration knew the data would be inaccurate but planned to proceed anyway.

For instance, one option the administration considered was counting every person in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities and affiliated parts of county jails.

This would have been an outrageously inaccurate method of estimating the undocumented immigrant population because many people in ICE detention facilities are ultimately found to be lawfully in the country.

The memo itself acknowledges this issue, but simply suggests that they would have to, “assume that either all prisoners living in the detention centers are here illegally or some proportion.”

Another option would have relied on American Community Survey (ACS) data, which would violate U.S. Supreme Court precedent for apportionment, because the ACS relies on statistical sampling. The memo simply lists this as a “con” of that option.

By obtaining this document through its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, CLC was able to make public the methods considered by government officials responsible for administering an accurate census count—information that is particularly important to underserved communities that have long struggled for equal government representation.

In addition, bringing this information to the public will help efforts to deter future attempts to use flawed methods that unlawfully exclude people from the apportionment count.

By law, the federal government must count “the total number of persons” residing in each state, “without regard for immigration status,” for the decennial reapportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives—as the Fourteenth Amendment, federal law and over two centuries of precedent require.

Counting every person for the purposes of apportionment is essential for recognizing the equal value and dignity of everyone residing in the United States. It also ensures the federal government is responsive and accountable to all people in our diverse country.

CLC will continue its efforts to protect the integrity of this vital democratic process. Everyone must be counted because every voice counts.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content. Follow @cgfromdc on Twitter
Stopping the Exclusion of Undocumented Immigrants from the Census