Sunday, November 15, 2009

To Count Or Not To Count

Comes the dawning: if Senators Vitter and Bennett have their way and the census excludes noncitizens from the decennial count, a number of states will lose seats in the House of Representatives. California could lose five. New York could lose two. In addition, and just as important, federal aid based on population would also drop, something the already battered California budget could not bear.

Private groups who have been paying attention have gotten the message and two disparate tactics are being contemplated, according to the Sacramento Bee:

Steve Gándola, president and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, wants to count all Latinos in the 2010 census, including millions of noncitizens. ...

And the Rev. Miguel Rivera, who heads the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, wants illegal Latino immigrants to boycott the U.S. census as a way to show their displeasure with Congress' refusal to overhaul national immigration laws. His motto: "No legalization, no enumeration."

Rev. Rivera is fully aware of the implications of the proposed action, but he counters the argument of loss of federal monies by pointing out that very little of those monies are directed to the barrios in a way that would make a difference. The only thing worse than the streets in those areas are the schools, he contends, and he may very well be right. He wants immigration reform and he sees this action as a way to get Democrats in Congress to start paying attention to the problem.

Still, such an action has the effect of shutting out immigrants, legal or illegal, and of silencing them, which is the obvious intent of Vitter and Bennett. Hopefully, the comments of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano last week calling for immigration reform which included a pathway to citizenship for those who are here without permission (see my post here) will change Rev. Rivera's mind and those of his organization.

A better way to put pressure on Congress is to show the clout that immigrants have in this country, documented or not. The chart that is included in the Bee article shows what happens if noncitizens and illegal immigrants get excluded from the count. The California and New York delegations should have copies placed on their desks. One California congressman has already seen the problem:

In the House, California Democratic Rep. Joe Baca of Rialto responded by introducing the Every Person Counts Act, which would not allow anyone to be excluded from the census based on their immigration or citizenship status. Baca said the Vitter-Bennett amendment clearly violated "the spirit of the Constitution."

Indeed it did: the Constitution says nothing about counting "citizens," it refers only to "persons." That has been interpreted to mean all people get counted, even immigrants.

Citizenship has never been a requirement, dating back to the first census in 1790, when each slave was counted as three-fifths of a person, said Clara Rodriguez, a sociology professor and census expert at Fordham University in New York.

"Slaves were not citizens," she said. "They did not become citizens until after the Civil War."

In the days of the Homestead Act, she said, there was no concern about the status of people who settled in Oklahoma and elsewhere because the nation was being flooded with immigrants: "I don't think that anybody was asking whether they were citizens," she said.

The Vitter-Bennett amendment was defeated in the Senate by cutting off debate, but I doubt those two gentlemen have admitted defeat. I anticipate another attempt as the Census draws nearer. That kind of mean spiritedness isn't easy to choke off, but passage of Rep. Baca's bill would be a good start.

Then maybe Sen. Vitter will go change his diaper and focus his attention elsewhere.

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