National News

With Census Case, Catholic Teaching Says ‘Every Person Counts’

A mural in southwest Houston encourages people to participate in the 2020 census. (Photo: James Ramos/Texas Catholic Herald via CNS)

By John Lavenburg, National Correspondent 

WINDSOR TERRACE — With time running out and a Supreme Court decision looming, Catholics continue to express disapproval of President Donald Trump’s desire to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Trump vs. New York case Monday that stems from Trump’s July memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census. If allowed, it could affect the number of congressional house seats in certain states.

“From a Catholic social teaching lens, we believe every person counts,” said Ashley Feasley, the director of policy at the U.S. Bishops Conference Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs. “Regardless of people’s individual status the census is a tool that is used for some very important elements of American life and some very important data metrics to come from it.”

In a conversation with The Tablet, Feasley highlighted that in addition to political representation, excluding undocumented immigrants from the census affects the amount of federal aid given to a state and local communities as well as demographic representation data for the entire decade.

Neomi De Anda, President for the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States said these are “major implications” for both citizens and non-citizens of the United States.

“As a natural born citizen, someone living in these districts is being forced to give up rights of citizenship that people that live in other districts have. Things about representation, about finances, about attention to public services,” De Anda told The Tablet.

She described a hypothetical example of a 100-person district that gets one representative per five people. If you have 95 percent of people counted then you have 19 representatives for that district. If you only have five percent counted because a large percentage is undocumented, then there’s one representative for that entire area.

“In the district where 95 percent of people are counted it’s 18 more representatives than the other district, which is a huge disparity in the kinds of rights I get as a citizen because of where I live,” De Anda said.

Others acknowledge the practical challenges this type of order creates, but also look at the message it sends undocumented immigrants across the country.

“Denying the undocumented and the states in which they reside their rightful representation in Congress is counter to the constitution and makes people feel invisible and not valued as human beings,” Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington said in a statement.

Senior immigrant counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Fred Tsao made similar comments to The Tablet about the message it sends to undocumented immigrants. He said it dismisses essential workers in American society.

“What they’re saying is you don’t count for political representation purposes no matter how long you’ve been here, even if you have U.S. citizen children or a spouse, or own a home or your own business,” Tsao said.

“Many undocumented immigrants are entrepreneurs, set up a business for themselves, they’re members of a community, they have neighborhoods, yet this administration is saying as far as they’re concerned these individuals do not count and should not be counted,” he continued.

At Monday’s oral arguments the Supreme Court seemed skeptical of Trump’s plan. The order has already been blocked twice in lower courts.

Some justices noted that all people that live in the United States have been counted since the Census began in 1790, and its practice to do so under the fourteenth amendment. Others also questioned if excluding the numbers would even be possible — Justice Samuel Alito calling it a “monumental task” to finish by year’s end.

Tsao, however, still has his reservations about what the outcome will be despite the justice’s skepticism and language of the fourteenth amendment.

“All of that probably points to this administration not being able to carry out its intentions. Then again, there does seem to be some political will on the part of the administration to get this done,” Tsao said.

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