Harris County joins legal fight against excluding undocumented immigrants from U.S. Census count

The Census response rate in Harris County was about 58.7% as of Aug. 17 as compared to a final response rate of 65.1% in 2010. Houston officials estimate the county will lose $250 million over the next 10 years for every missing 1%. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)
The Census response rate in Harris County was about 58.7% as of Aug. 17 as compared to a final response rate of 65.1% in 2010. Houston officials estimate the county will lose $250 million over the next 10 years for every missing 1%. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

The Census response rate in Harris County was about 58.7% as of Aug. 17 as compared to a final response rate of 65.1% in 2010. Houston officials estimate the county will lose $250 million over the next 10 years for every missing 1%. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan announced Aug. 18 the county has joined a legal battle challenging the administration of President Donald Trump in its efforts to prevent undocumented immigrants from counting toward how Congressional districts are drawn.

In an Aug. 18 press release, Ryan said not counting undocumented immigrants would violate the U.S. Constitution, including Article 1, the due process clause in the Fifth Amendment and the 10th and 14th Amendments.

"The U.S. Constitution is very clear that all persons are counted when a determination is made on congressional representation,” Ryan said. “If successful, the president’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants would be disastrous for Harris County and indeed the entire country.”

Taken every 10 years, the Census count serves a variety of purposes, including determining the amount of funding an area gets from federal grant programs, federal relief funding during emergencies and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The count is also used to determine how Congressional district lines are drawn and how many Congressional representatives certain areas have based on how populous they are.


Harris County is projected to gain three seats in Congress when lines are drawn due to population growth, Ryan said. If undocumented immigrants are not counted, the county could end up losing one seat instead, he said.


Harris County joins several other groups in the lawsuit—including San Jose, California; Kings County, Washington; and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis is also listed individually as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The suit was filed July 27 in California and is currently before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In a July 21 memorandum, the Trump administration argued that the census requires all "inhabitants" of a state to be counted and that the executive branch has the discretion to determine who qualifies as an inhabitant. The administration directed the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to provide information "to carry out the policy" in the memorandum.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argues the directive "discriminates against people based on race, ethnicity, and national origin in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses" and that it also violates the plain text of the Census Act by directing the commerce secretary "to transmit information that does not actually include the correct population for apportionment, so that the President can exercise his purported 'discretion' to miscount persons."

Ryan's office also joined a separate lawsuit to extend the deadline for the census count to be completed. The deadline was cut short by one month in early August, a move that critics said could lead to undercounts that would be especially harmful to vulnerable communities. The lawsuit seeks to set the deadline back to the end of October instead of the end of September.

The response rate in Harris County was about 58.7% as of Aug. 17 as compared to a final response rate of 65.1% in 2010. Houston officials estimate the county will lose $250 million over the next 10 years for every missing 1%.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.