LAREDO, Texas – President Trump’s memo to the Commerce Department asking it to ignore undocumented immigrants counted in Census 2020 was designed to stoke fear in the community.

This is the view of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar. The Laredo Democrat was commentating on a ruling by a three-judge federal panel that found Trump lacked the authority to remove non-citizens from census counts used to allot House seats.

“The president’s memo was a brazen violation of the rule of law. This is the way we have counted everyone for years and for him to change it, it is another attack on our communities. I am glad that the court said that,” Cuellar said, in an exclusive interview with The Rio Grande Guardian.

A federal court on Thursday rejected President Trump’s order to exclude unauthorized immigrants from population counts that will be used next year to reallocate seats in the House of Representatives, The New York Times reported.

The ruling was so obviously illegal that a lawsuit challenging the order need not go to a trial, the judges said.

“The court, a three-judge panel in Federal District Court in Manhattan, said the presidents proposal exceeded his authority under federal laws governing the census and reapportionment,” The New York Times reported.

“The specially convened panel said there was no need to consider a second claim in the lawsuit that the president’s order violated the Constitution’s requirement to base apportionment of the House on ‘the whole number of persons in each state’.”

In granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the judges wrote: “The merits of the parties’ dispute are not particularly close or complicated.” 

Two of the judges, Richard C. Wesley and Peter W. Hall, were named to the bench by President George W. Bush. The third, Jesse M. Furman, was nominated by President Barack Obama.

Cuellar said no one can deny Trump lacks persistence. He said the president first tried to get a citizenship question added to the 2020 census form. Once that was blocked in court, he issued a memo to the Commerce Department asking it not to include undocumented immigrants in the census data sent to Congress.

“I have got to hand it to Trump. This guy doesn’t quit. Once he saw what the Supreme Court said about the citizenship question he tried another route, with the memo. A three-judge panel from the Southern District of New York unanimously ruled that was a violation of the law.”

Many legal scholars believed the White House had little chance of making the memo stick. 

Cuellar said Trump likely had two goals. One was a long shot, trying to get a favorable ruling in court. “The secondary goal was to sow doubt in people’s minds that undocumented residents are not to be counted. That casts doubt throughout the immigrant community. We have a hard time to get our community counted to begin with. This was aimed at causing more confusion.”

Though the three-judge panel did not feel the need to rule on the constitutionality of the Trump memo, Cuellar said the constitution is clear.

“The constitution says, count every person. It does not say, count legal people or people with property or people that can read, or people that can write, or any of the different barriers they used in the past. It says count every single person,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said he remembers Tea Party folks droning on ten years ago about reading the constitution. 

“The constitution says every person will be counted every ten years. Here is what it says: ‘Representatives shall be apportioned upon the several states according to the respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state.’ It doesn’t say legal, it doesn’t say undocumented, it doesn’t say rich, poor, black, white, brown. It doesn’t say any of that.”

Cuellar said counting every person in South Texas will ensure more federal funding comes to the region.

“The census is important for money, money for education, more for transportation. Look, I sit on (the) appropriations (committee) but I do not do all the funding. A big chunk of the money that comes down is done not by earmarks or grants but by formulas. Formulas are driven by numbers. If you have 100 people and ten of them are undocumented immigrants, and you don’t count those ten people, you have needs for 100 people but you are only getting money for 90. That is what happens when everyone is not counted in the census.”

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