On July 21, President Donald Trump signed a memo barring undocumented immigrants from being counted when U.S. congressional districts are next redrawn, a process known as apportionment. While this change could impact the accuracy of the 2020 U.S. census and disenfranchise immigrant communities, CNN and broadcast news networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) have largely failed to report on the memo.
The accuracy of the census, which occurs once every 10 years, is vital to drawing congressional and state legislative districts, establishing the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives, and determining “how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs.” There are many ways that an inaccurate count produced by Trump’s memo could have a detrimental and lasting negative impact on immigrant communities in the U.S.
If the change is enacted, undocumented immigrants would not be considered when redrawing congressional districts, which are based on population. The move would further disenfranchise immigrant communities, essentially erasing the representation of the largely non-white population of undocumented immigrants and boosting white-majority voting districts. Under the memo, Texas, California, and Florida would lose seats in the House.
Experts say the memo is legally dubious, and several lawsuits have already been filed against the Trump administration, including separate suits by the American Civil Liberties Union and a New York-led coalition of attorneys general from 20 states and the District of Columbia.
Regardless of the memo’s implementation, civil rights groups and activists have warned that Trump’s memo could have the impact of discouraging individuals in immigrant communities from participating in the 2020 U.S. census. Others have also pointed out the racist history of the U.S. government determining who is allowed personhood under the Constitution, pointing to the “three-fifths compromise” that determined enslaved individuals would not be fully counted when it came to determining congressional apportionment.
Media Matters analyzed coverage from July 18 to July 26 and found that despite the detrimental impact that the memo could have on immigrant communities, CNN and broadcast news networks have almost entirely ignored the move. While MSNBC led coverage, with 25 minutes dedicated to the issue, CNN’s coverage was negligible, totaling less than a minute. Fox kept its coverage to just nine minutes. In broadcast news, ABC, CBS, and NBC failed to report on the memo at all.
Prominent cable and broadcast networks have a history of ignoring Trump administration attacks on immigrants, and the lack of coverage of the new Trump memo falls in line with past reporting.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for cable networks CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ This Morning, Evening News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for any of the terms “migrant,” “undocumented,” or “illegals” or any variation of the term “immigrant” within close proximity of any of the terms “census,” “Common Cause,” “memo,” “executive order,” or any variation of the term “Congress” within close proximity of the term “seats” from July 18 through July 26, 2020.
We timed any discussion of the memo, which included segments where the memo was the stated topic of discussion or there was “significant discussion” of the memo in segments about other topics. We defined “significant discussion” as two or more persons discussing the memo. We timed only the relevant portions of such segments. We also included teasers for upcoming segments about the memo and passing mentions of the memo in segments about other topics.