Howard Lee Gorrell: Marylanders Living Abroad Won’t Be Counted in Census

U.S. Census Bureau photo

“The Trump administration’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census is blatantly unconstitutional and is clearly motivated by animus toward our immigrant communities.”

— Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (July 24, 2020)

COME ON, Brian! Remember me, your deaf star witness before the Senate Committee of Judiciary Proceedings for two decades?

Your three-page statement on the Census mentioned nothing about Marylanders living abroad.

Look at me! Since the COVID-19 pandemic in Croatia started on Feb. 25, I have been “stranded” there. On Census Day, I rode out the coronavirus in Rijeka, Croatia. Suddenly, I was automatically NOT counted in the 2020 Census.

Do you know that the Census Bureau is still not constitutionally mandated to count Americans abroad?

Of course, it’s not just about me. There are 9 million  American citizens who are now living and working in more than 160 countries worldwide.

Its size is about 3% of the official national population — and equivalent to the combined headcounts of Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Tucson. It’s also essentially the same size as the population of undocumented immigrants, who get almost all the attention in fights over the Census.

Why? Ask your associates to read the Census Bureau’s report, “Counting Americans Overseas as Part of the Census Would Not Be Feasible.”

Your beloved Montgomery County has the Washington, D.C., Temple (formerly the Washington Temple) on the Capital Beltway. It is sad to inform you that overseas missionaries from this temple and other temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also not counted in the Census.

There are at least two federal cases on this point: Com. of Mass. v. Mosbacher, 785 F. Supp. 230 – Dist. Court, D. Massachusetts 1992 (quoting “Other Americans Living Overseas—American citizens not employed by the federal government living overseas as of the census date have not been included in the apportionment counts for congressional seats”).

In 2001, a federal district court of three judges in Utah rejected the argument that the Census should count missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it counts members of the military. Utah v. Evans, 143 F. Supp. 2d 1290 (D. Utah), aff’d, 122 S. Ct. 612 (2001).

This decision has a large impact on Utah. Had more than 11,000 Mormon missionaries from Utah living abroad been included in the 2000 census count, Utah would have gotten a fourth seat in the House of Representatives. Instead, an extra House seat went to North Carolina, which had 18,360 overseas military and federal personnel counted in the Census.

Interestingly, your federal complaint does not mention the above citations. However, the president’s Executive Order on not using the count of undocumented immigrants for congressional reapportionment does reference the Franklin case.

Census officials say that if Congress wants them to count all citizens overseas, lawmakers will have to enact legislation making it a requirement.

On March 15, 2018, Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop (R) introduced H.R. 5303 (115th): Full Count Act of 2018 that would have required the Census Bureau to ensure that all Americans living abroad are “fully and accurately” counted and properly attributed to their states. Still, this bill died.

Without the forgotten Marylanders abroard, Uncle Sam would give your state a large pot of gold, instead of a giant pot.

Why not tell your co-plaintiffs to demand that the Census Bureau start counting for apportionment purposes the 9 million civilian American citizens aboard — and that the count should be officially included as part of their hometowns’ stateside populations?

And tell them that those of us who are citizens older than 18 may register at home and use absentee ballots to vote for president and all other offices in the 2020 election. But we will not be counted as part of the 2020 population of the United States. That makes no sense.

I’m resigned to not being counted this time, and I’ve rented Airbnb apartments in Croatia, which has 4,993 recorded COVID-19 cases and 141 deaths as of Wednesday, through the middle of November.

But now there’s a decade to get things right and count another 9 million Americans.

— HOWARD LEE GORRELL

The writer is a disability rights activist.