President Donald Trump's attempts to manipulate the census have taken an even more disturbing turn. Thwarted by the courts in an earlier move to add a citizenship question, Trump now is making a last-ditch effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count outright.
In his recently issued executive memorandum, Trump actually makes the argument that "excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of Government."
For border states with substantial undocumented populations, such a policy could be disastrous. But the damage would not be limited to them. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Most work, pay taxes, and are a vital part of their communities. Not counting them for census purposes would be a travesty.
The census is used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid to states. It also determines the number of seats a state gets in the U.S House. Minnesota, in particular, could be on the verge of losing a congressional seat, making a complete and accurate count imperative.
The original language regarding the census is worth looking at, because it reflects how far this nation has come, and the dangers of backsliding. Article 1 of the Constitution actually says the census "shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." That last, by the way, refers to enslaved people, who at the insistence of southern states were counted as three-fifths of a person.
Since that time, the federal government has not attempted to exclude entire populations from the census count. Until now. Trump, without going through Congress, is attempting by fiat to take this country backward, returning us to the days when some populations simply did not count.
This is wrong, and it is injurious to those populations, the states in which they reside and the country as a whole.
Minnesota, rightly, has joined a coalition of states in a federal lawsuit to halt Trump's latest order. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said that just as with the earlier citizenship question, "President Trump's recent effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from congressional apportionment is illegal and unconstitutional. … [W]e are confident that we will prevail as we have so many times before when his Administration rejected dignity and humanity of our immigrant neighbors."
Ellison noted that even the person in Trump's administration charged with overseeing the census — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — acknowledged under oath to Congress last year that "the constitutional mandate … is to try to count every person residing in the U.S. at their place of residence on the dates when the census is conducted."
The federal court should waste no time in saying so and making it clear that Trump's executive order violates the Constitution.
Trump has already turned this census count into a chaotic, controversial process that is likely to lead to the most flawed census results in modern history. If the census succeeds, it will be in spite of a president who has done his utmost to manipulate it to his own ends.