If The U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of President Donald Trump’s memorandum to remove unauthorized immigrants from the 2020 census count, California stands to lose some political power.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments Nov. 30 on the Trump administration’s July memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from congressional apportionment, used to calculate the number of congressional seats each state gets.
Eric McGhee, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said the state is home to an estimated two million undocumented immigrants. If they aren’t included in the census formula, the state could lose congressional representation.
Due to the state’s slow population growth and people moving out of the state, California is already expected to lose one congressional seat.
With the potential omission of undocumented immigrants, it could lose up to three.
“If we don’t include undocumented immigrants in the count then we will almost certainly lose at least one (more) seat and possibly two,” McGhee said. “It could have significant consequences.”
The removal of congressional seats would shift power to other parts of the country that would gain those seats, according to McGhee. Since 1910, the U.S. has allotted a total of 435 congressional seats for states to split based on population.
Other states with a large population of undocumented immigrants that could lose seats include New York and Florida, according to a Pew Research Center study, while less diverse states like Ohio, Minnesota and Alabama would each gain one more seat.
As far as federal funding goes, unauthorized immigrants aren’t eligible to partake in federally funded programs. The safety-net programs they are eligible for tend to be state funded, according to Shannon McConville, senior research associate at the Public Policy Institute.
“That should not have big implications for funding for those programs,” McConville said.
But losing political representation could affect the future of certain safety-net programs, McGhee said.
Trump’s memorandum, dated July 21 and addressed to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, argues that “the Constitution does not specifically define which persons must be included in the apportionment base,” leaving it up to the president’s discretion.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the memorandum in July.
Undocumented or not, the lawsuit argued the census has counted every person living in the U.S. since 1790 and used the data to divide congressional representation.
It also argued that the “exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the census apportionment count will impair … congressional, state-level, and local redistricting efforts.”
This isn’t the first time California has challenged the Trump administration over changing census policies.
California was among several states to sue the Trump administration over the addition of a citizenship question to the census in 2018, when Becerra filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
State leaders and immigrant advocates feared the question would lead to an inaccurate count by discouraging immigrants from participating in the decennial count.
Ultimately, The Supreme Court rejected Trump’s argument to add the question.
Even if The Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration, it is not clear how undocumented immigrants will be identified in order to exclude them.
It’s possible, McGhee said, that a state’s undocumented immigrant population could be found by using Census data and matching it with other government databases to identify people who have records as citizens and non-citizens.
“Everybody else who didn’t match is then presumably an undocumented immigrant,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a very robust and healthy debate about whether that’s an appropriate process and whether it’s actually going to produce an accurate number.”
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