A United States court has rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to prevent undocumented immigrants from being counted in the US census, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Thursday, hailing the decision as a “huge victory”.
In its decision, the US District Court in New York said that so long as they reside in the country, undocumented immigrants “qualify as ‘persons in’ a ‘state'” who must be counted in the 2020 census, a mandatory survey that is sent to every household in the US every 10 years.
Their exclusion would have influenced how many seats in the US House of Representatives are allocated to each US state – and Donald Trump’s critics, as well as civil rights groups, had accused the US president of trying to politicise the census process for his own gain.
“The president must act in accordance with, and within the boundaries of, the authority that Congress has granted,” the three-judge panel said in its ruling, which can be appealed to the US Supreme Court. “We conclude that the president did not do so.”
Trump in July signed a presidential memorandum ordering undocumented immigrants – who recent estimates say number more than 10.5 million people across the country – be excluded from being counted when congressional districts are redrawn.
“Excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of government,” Trump’s memorandum reads.
In their decision, the federal judges in New York said the presidential order was unlawful and the harm it would cause would last a decade.
The census is also used to allocate federal funding and immigrants’ rights groups say that undercounting means communities will not get the financial support they need to offer critical programmes to residents.
The ACLU was among several groups, as well as cities and US states, to file a federal lawsuit in July against Trump’s order.
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, said in a statement Thursday that the court’s decision “is a huge victory for voting and immigrants’ rights”.
“President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponise the census against immigrant communities. The law is clear – every person counts in the census,” Ho said.
The decision was also welcomed by Letitia James, the attorney general for the state of New York, which was among the plaintiffs in the case. “President Trump’s repeated attempts to hinder, impair, and prejudice an accurate census and the subsequent apportionment have failed once again,” James said in a statement.
The White House and the Department of Commerce, which oversees the census, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters Thursday.
The Trump administration had previously tried to include a citizenship question on the 2020 US Census, another move that was lambasted as an attempt to intimidate undocumented immigrants.
In July, the administration abandoned that plan, saying it would begin printing forms that do not include the contentious question.
That decision came after a rebuke from the US Supreme Court, which on June 27 faulted the Trump administration for its original attempt to add the question and blocked its effort.
“I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement at the time.
Since coming into office, the Trump administration has pursued staunchly anti-immigration policies, including a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Many of the policies have been challenged in court.