Trump’s play to omit undocumented from census could hit Nevada hardest

Even if never implemented, ‘scare tactic’ could curb participation and state would lose money

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(Getty Images)

If President Donald Trump’s attempt to prevent undocumented immigrants from being counted when congressional lines are drawn after this year’s census is successful, immigrant attorneys and activist say it would be disastrous for Nevada, which has the largest number of undocumented immigrants per capita.

Trump’s memorandum, which he sent out Tuesday, instructs the U.S. Department of Commerce to leave out the number of immigrants living in the United States without documentation from the apportionment count following the U.S. 2020 Census. 

Immigrant groups called the announcement another example of anti-immigrant and xenophobic proposals coming from the administration.

“Nevada is one of the most critically impacted states in the midst of the pandemic that is in dire need of the resources and services that are funded by census data,” said Emily Zamora, the executive director of Silver State Voices and chair of the Nevadans Count Coalition. “This memorandum is just another example of how the Trump administration is dedicated to attacking and erasing hard-to-count communities across our state.” 

Nevada has an estimated 210,000 undocumented people, according to the Pew Research Center – about 7 percent of the population. While the center lists other states like California, Texas and Florida as having the highest total number of undocumented immigrants, Nevada has the highest per capita.

“If any state were to have its representation reduced by not counting undocumented immigrants it would be Nevada,” said Michael Kagan, the director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic. “It would be very bad for Nevada because of our population. This would undermine the political power of the most diverse states in the country.”

Groups have argued the proposal, even if it’s not implemented, will have a chilling effect on immigrant communities.

“This is just a scare tactic to further marginalize our communities,” said  Audrey Peral, an economic justice organizer with Make the Road Nevada. “Through our work with our Censo y Cena events we have heard how mixed status families fear accurately filling out the census because of the belief they’ll put their loved ones at risk of deportation regardless of the laws in place to protect census data.”

Zamora said accurate census reporting is even more important to helping communities which have been hurt by the health pandemic get needed aid.

Nevada is already a hard-to-count state, for a variety of reasons. Outreach workers, community organizers, and public officials have spent that last year or more pushing participation in the census, trying to spread the word that for every person counted the census the state receives $20,000 in federal funding over the next decade. That funding supports healthcare, infrastructure and education, among other things.

“(Trump) has an obligation to this country to guarantee that the integrity of the census and what it aims to accomplish is honored and maintained,” Zamora said. “This move further underscores his indifference in ensuring that economies across this country and the communities which drive them are recovering and recovering quickly from the financial effects of COVID-19. Our communities in Nevada and across the country deserve a full and accurate count, and we cannot do that without ensuring that every person living within the United States is represented in that count.”

The psychological impact of the proposal, Kagan noted, could still accomplish the same goal: prevent immigrants from filling out the census.  

“The more that the president is able to link his anti-immigrant agenda with the census, the more likely it is that immigrant families may feel nervous about the census,” Kagan said. “If immigrant families are scared to fill out the census, they won’t be counted, and that will accomplish the same goal, to undercount immigrants.” 

It’s not the first time the Trump administration has used the census to target the immigrant community. 

The administration previously tried to add a question on citizenship to the U.S. Census before ultimately backing down. 

The administration has also put forward other proposals such as issuing new guidelines for the public charge rule to prevent immigrants applying for green cards from using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, housing vouchers, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income. 

Though the rule didn’t apply to those with Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and victim-based visa holders, Nevada immigrant and children’s advocacy groups reported misconceptions around the proposal harmed the entire immigrant community. 

Like the other announcements and proposals put forward by the administration, Kagan expects a round of lawsuits following Tuesday’s announcement.

“There is definitely a chance this won’t be allowed to go forward with the courts. There’s a host of legal obstacles and problems with what President Trump ordered,” Kagan said. “Like we’ve seen over and over again, this will play out in the courts. There are practical issues too because the census doesn’t ask about immigration status, so it’s not even clear where these numbers would come from. We have rough estimates of how many undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. but they’re not precise.” 

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.