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California Would Lose Seats In Congress If (And It's A Big If) Trump Can Omit Immigrants Lacking Legal Status From Counts

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A view of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)
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President Trump issued a memorandum on Tuesday seeking the exclusion of immigrants without legal status from the census numbers that are used to divide congressional seats among U.S. states.

If this were to happen — and there are many reasons it might not — it could have major consequences for California.

The state, which currently holds 53 of the 435 seats in Congress, already faces the potential loss of two seats because the population has declined. Douglas Johnson, a research affiliate with Claremont McKenna College, said the loss of Congressional seats could double if the more than two million immigrants living here without legal status are eliminated from the census count.

But there are several reasons why the memo might not lead to much: To begin with, the 2020 census does not collect data on immigration status. An attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question was derailed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.

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Secondly, Jonson said, such an exclusion would be unconstitutional. He told us:

"The constitution is clear. Each house district has to have an equal number of persons. Person’s a person. There’s not much leeway in that term."

Still, Alejandra Ramirez Zarate with the racial justice organization Advancement Project California worries the memo may deter some immigrants from participating.

She's been trying to get word out to immigrant families that it’s safe to complete the forms and speak with census enumerators.

“What a more powerful way for our descendents to know that we were here than by responding to the 2020 census. By participating when we’re told that our existence doesn't matter.” Ramirez-Zarate said. “This is how you can save your democracy.”

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