WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s desire to keep immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally from being included in the U.S. Census count used to determine House seats could hurt Florida, a growing state with a large immigrant population.
Trump issued a memorandum Tuesday that directs the commerce secretary to exclude people who are in the U.S. illegally from being counted as part of the process, known as reapportionment, to determine how many seats in the House of Representatives each state receives.
Florida, which is likely to gain one or two additional seats in the House of Representatives based on population figures prior to the 2022 election, could see that increase drop to one or zero if the president’s memo goes into effect. Each state’s combined number of Senate and House seats also determines the number of Electoral College votes per state, so additional House seats would increase Florida’s importance in presidential elections. There are a total of 435 seats in the House, and they are distributed based on population, so states with larger populations are given greater representation.
The memorandum, which is similar to an executive order, comes one year after the Supreme Court blocked a citizenship question from appearing on the 2020 Census.
“My administration will not support giving congressional representation to aliens who enter or remain in the country unlawfully, because doing so would create perverse incentives and undermine our system of government,” Trump said in a statement. “Just as we do not give political power to people who are here temporarily, we should not give political power to people who should not be here at all.”
Democrats vowed to fight his memorandum in court.
“He wants to take representation away from Florida and he wants to take resources away from Florida,” Miami Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala said in an interview. “It’s anti-Miami and anti-Florida and he ought to be ashamed of himself.”
Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s spokeswoman said he supported the Trump administration’s memorandum.
“Florida is an immigration state, and Senator Scott is a strong supporter of immigration, but it has to be legal,” Scott spokesperson Sarah Schwirian said in an email. “He agrees that the Census should ask about citizenship and that apportionment should be based on citizenship. Only the radical left would think otherwise.”
Florida is on the verge of adding either one or two congressional seats after the 2020 Census, depending on population growth. For decades, Florida has increased its representation in the House of Representatives, including adding two seats after the 2010 Census. Those seats are now held by Miami Democratic Reps. Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
Pew Research estimated that 775,000 unauthorized immigrants lived in Florida as of 2016 and a majority of unauthorized immigrants live in six states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Four of the six states — not Florida — are controlled by Democrats.
“Florida would likely be on the list of states that would potentially lose if this were to go forward,” said Beth Jarosz, a senior research associate with the Population Reference Bureau who focuses on the Census. “Whether they would lose a seat would depend on how other states are affected.”
Jarosz and Shalala also said Trump’s memorandum has an immediate effect of discouraging immigrants from filling out the 2020 Census even if the courts block the memorandum in the future. A Census undercount in South Florida could limit the amount of federal funds allocated to the region along with hurting the state’s case for more seats in the House of Representatives.
“We’re making a huge effort in Miami to get everybody counted so this undermines it for everybody, for Republicans, for Democrats, in terms of services,” Shalala said. “It’s an anti-Miami statement.”
Mucarsel-Powell said on Twitter that Trump’s memorandum “violates the Constitution and will continue to undermine an accurate census count.”
The 2020 Census experienced delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline to complete the Census has been moved back to October and Census workers are beginning in-person visits to households that did not fill it out electronically.
Jarosz said undercount concerns are particularly acute for families that include a mix of citizens, permanent residents and unauthorized immigrants.
“If this moves forward, there are really clear direct effects,” Jarosz said. “There are studies that this would suppress participation. You potentially lose a lot of citizens and unauthorized immigrants just through that fear factor.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not respond to a request for comment, though he previously said he did not have a problem with a citizenship question being included in the Census. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said previously he was opposed to a citizenship question.
Jarosz said it’s hard for the Trump administration to accurately determine whether someone is an unauthorized immigrant, a legal permanent resident or even a citizen for the purposes of reapportionment.
She said the Commerce Department relies on records like voter registration and driver’s licenses to cross-check census data, but if the records don’t match, it’s easy to mislabel a permanent resident or citizen as an unauthorized immigrant.
“If the match isn’t there, they might be a non-citizen but you still don’t know authorization status,” Jarosz said. “Or they might be a citizen who hasn’t updated their DMV or voting records. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts and how much it has the potential to suppress participation.”
Miami Herald reporter Monique Madan contributed to this report.