Battle Over Census Becoming Fight Over Illegal Immigration

Filed under: , , , , , ,

Whether the 2010 census should have 10 questions on it, as it’s currently written, or 11, as Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and David Vitter (R-La.) suggest, seems a simple enough issue.

Even though 100 million forms have already been printed, the census director recently told a Senate panel that reprinting the forms would cost about $22 million, not exactly a princely sum in Washington these days. Although supporting materials and training manuals would also have to be changed, Bennett said on the Senate floor recently that adding an 11th question would be “not that big a deal.”

But to Democratic activists and civil rights organizations, it is a very big deal, because Vitter (pictured) and Bennett want the 11th question to ask respondents if they if are American citizens.

The debate over that question, and whether legal or illegal immigrants should count toward states’ apportionment in Congress, is the subject of an amendment by the two lawmakers to an appropriations bill now pending in the Senate.

It is also the source of a vicious proxy fight over illegal immigration that previews the anger, animosity and legal challenges that await the larger battle over comprehensive immigration reform that President Obama has said he’ll bring forward later this year.

“I believe that’s a basic requirement for the next census — including illegal immigration, including properly handling congressional apportionment,” Vitter said in the Senate as he explained his amendment. “Many states will lose congressional representation, which such states would not have otherwise lost, thereby violating the constitutional principle of ‘one man, one vote.’ “

To press his case further, Vitter wrote a letter last week to 17 senators, warning them that their states will loose seats in Congress if the census form is not changed. “If the current census plan goes ahead, the inclusion of non-citizens toward apportionment will artificially increase the population count in certain states,” Vitter wrote. The states likely to be negatively affected would be Louisiana, Iowa, Indiana, Mississippi, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina and North Carolina.

To prevent that, the Vitter-Bennett bill would withhold funds for the census until the forms are changed. After that, only U.S. citizens would be counted to decide how many representatives each state will get in Congress. A note on the form reminds people that they are required by law to answer truthfully, and Bennett has said that the information is confidential and cannot be used for immigration enforcement purposes later.

Simon Rosenberg, the founder of the New Democrat Network, opposes the measure. “We essentially went to war over this question as a country,” Rosenberg said. “The Civil War was fought over how we treat slaves and whether they’re whole people or not. The country made a resolution around these questions, which is that everyone would be counted in the reapportionment. It is not something Congress can override through law. Congress does not have the ability to change this. They’d have to change the Constitution.”

For the non-scholars out there, Article I of that document says that states shall be represented in Congress by apportioning seats based on “Adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.”

After the Civil War, the “three-fifths” language was changed to “whole person” and ratified as the 14th amendment in 1868.

Beyond the constitutional question, a gander at census forms since 1790 (the first year a once-a-decade count was taken) shows why Vitter and Bennett’s call has become so controversial.

From references to “mulattos,” “idiotics” and “Indians, non-taxed,” the census forms of years past serve as a cultural history of the country’s perceptions about race, class, gender and the value of a person to the nation.

That 1790 census asked each household for the number of “free white males, free white females and slaves.” Thirty years later, census marshals began to distinguish between enslaved blacks and “free colored persons.” In 1840, questions were added to count the number of “insane” and idiotic” people.

The 1850 form included a special schedule for slaveholders, with instructions to census marshals that “the color of the slaves should be noted”; that “those who have absconded in the last year and those who have been recovered” should be counted; and that notes should be made carefully on “any perceptible African blood” because “important scientific results depend on the determination of this class.”

In the 1880 census, well after slavery had ended, enumerators were told to distinguish carefully between housekeepers and “housewives, who have no gainful employment.” During the Industrial Revolution, census takers began asking extensive questions about a person’s citizenship, including whether they intended to become a U.S. citizen. The 1900 form instructed: “write ‘Pa” (for papers).” As recently as 1970, a question asked, “Is this person naturalized?”

Bennett told Politics Daily that the census already asks the legal-status question on some of its forms (sent out annually to about 1 million households) and that his amendment would only relate to Congressional apportionment and would not affect federal funding allocations.

“Funding is available based on total people and that’s the way it should be, because if a state has 5 million illegal immigrants and is proving services for them, the federal dollars for those programs should be made available for those 5 million people,” Bennett said. “That’s not the issue — the issue is apportionment in Congress. Citizens and legal aliens.” He added, “I have had some Democrats say to me you’ve raised a very worthwhile question, but not to the point that they’re willing to co-sponsor it.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is a co-sponsor of the amendment and stressed in a census oversight hearing this month that counting illegal and legal immigrants and stripping them out for apportionment is a matter of basic fairness.

After going through the list of states that he said would lose seats in Congress if other states count the number of immigrants toward their total population, Coburn said, “It’s not about partisan issues and it’s not about state issues. It’s about doing what our Constitution says.”

But like the question of health benefits for illegal immigrants that flared during this summer’s health care debate, the question of counting immigrants toward apportionment has become a fierce partisan issue.

On Tuesday morning, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) sent out an action alert, urging members to call their senators to vote for the amendment. “We can stop the amnesty lobby from preventing a vote on this amendment,” the alert said. “But we need your help! Here’s what you can do to ensure that the federal government finally obtains an accurate count of the illegal alien population.”

At the other end of the spectrum, nearly a dozen civil rights groups co-sponsored a press conference this week denouncing the Vitter amendment. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, attended the event and said the amendment “echoes a shameful period when the census counted most African Americans as three-fifths of a person.” He went on to say that “the ideals that our country was founded on, and the sacrifice and struggle of generations of Americans to realize them, deserve better than this.”

Although the House has already passed the appropriations bill that the Vitter amendment would be attached to, a senior congressional staff member said that Democrats are aware of the census measure and discussing it warily. “There is a lot of concern among the California Democratic Congressional delegation,” the aide said.

Vitter has charged that Harry Reid is stalling the entire Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill to avoid taking a vote on his amendment, knowing some Democrats do not want to go on the record as being against a measure seen as tough on illegal immigration.

“I find it sad and telling that the majority leader is going to such lengths to avoid having a vote on that simple concept, that simple idea,” Vitter said.

Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau fired back, saying that Republicans had offered several amendments to the appropriations bill that Democrats find objectionable and have not come to an agreement on: “Senator Vitter is flattering himself and making it sound like his is the only amendment.”

Mollineau continued: “For someone who says he is a fiscal conservative, he is trying to insert a provision that would cost millions and millions of dollars. He has no problem spending taxpayers’ dollars on something that is blatantly partisan.”

Democratic groups have used the delay on the bill to bombard senators with letters, phone calls and background documents with their objections to Vitter and Bennett’s measure. NDN’s Rosenberg said that he believes the delay may have doomed the amendment. “It is astonishing to me is that in the first year of the first African American presidency in out history, we are actually contemplating re-litigating Civil War-era decisions over how to count people in the census,” he said. “I think once senators understand what’s at stake here, I just don’t believe this is going to pass.”

The Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill is still pending in the Senate.


Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments

Pulling the Plug on Positive Thinking

Filed under:

Happiness for sale!


Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments

Help Wanted: What’s the Best Way To Create More Jobs ASAP?

Filed under:

That din you hear in the capital is not just arguments about health reform. As unemployment closes in on 10 percent and opinion polls reflect rising economic anxiety, there’s an urgent debate going on about how to create jobs and do it fast.


Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments

Commission Report Finds U.S. Unprepared for Bioterror Attacks

Filed under: , , ,

A bipartisan congressional commission says the Obama administration isn’t doing enough to address the threat of biological terrorist attacks. The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction report concludes White House biosecurity policy isn’t keeping up “with the increasing capabilities and agility of those who would do harm to the United States.”

The commission was created by Congress last year to address concerns raised by investigations conducted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It warns that anthrax spores scattered by a crop-dusting aircraft could “kill more Americans than died in World War II.” The economic impact, according to the commission, could top $1.8 trillion.

USA Today obtained a copy of the report:

Among the commission’s criticisms, according to the newspaper:

o. President Obama’s National Security Council has no senior political appointees with a biodefense background. “That was not the case in the Clinton and Bush administrations,” the report says.

o. Programs created after the 9/11 attacks to develop and buy vaccines and drugs to prevent and respond to a biological attack are not being funded adequately. Although the report is critical of the White House on this topic, Congress has the power of the purse. The report cites a funding shortage for a program to ensure there are enough drugs to respond to a bioterrorist attack.

o. The Obama administration asked for $305 million in its fiscal 2010 budget request. “Insufficient by a factor of 10,” the report says.

o. Disease surveillance programs fall short.

Commission Chairman Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida, warns the White House to act more aggressively on the bioterror threat because, “the clock is ticking.”


Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments

Vegas Casino Boss Bets Heavily Against Dems

Filed under:

Flamboyant, controversial Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn wants to tip the odds against what he calls Obama’s “socialism lite” agenda.


Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments

Airport Security Guard Accused of Threatening President Obama

Filed under: , ,

A private security guard at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey has been arrested on charges of making threats against Barack Obama, one day before the president was scheduled to land there, the Associated Press reports.

A Continental Airlines worker reportedly told authorities that John Brek, 55, made threatening comments at an airport coffee cart on Tuesday. Brek was arrested several hours later and charged under state law with making terroristic threats against the president. He has denied making any threats.

A search of his northern New Jersey home turned up dozens of firearms, none illegal.

President Obama arrives in New Jersey Wednesday to campaign for Gov. Jon Corzine.


Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments

Analysts: Turnout is Key for Democrats in Midterm Elections

Filed under: ,

Democrats are facing significant challenges in the 2010 midterm elections and will likely see some political setbacks, according to two well-known analysts. And, they said, the majority party has to deliver in several important areas — and soon — to avoid frustrating American voters even further.
Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research and a Democratic Party strategist, and Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, addressed a conference of the National Jewish Democratic Council Wednesday about the upcoming midterm elections.
The outlook isn’t great for Democrats.
Both Lake and Rothenberg said Democrats would likely lose some Senate seats, though they doubted Republicans would make enough gains to reach a majority in either house.
“Turnout is the key and it is a Democratic problem,” Rothenberg said, adding that he doesn’t think young voters will show up to vote this time around.
Lake emphasized this point as well, saying the electorate next year will not only be older, but also less diverse. She said younger voters and African-Americans who turned out in big numbers for Barack Obama last year are less likely to vote in the midterms.
And the congressional races are certainly not the only important elections, Lake said. In 2010, gubernatorial elections will play a fundamental role in the fortunes of the Democratic Party.
“It’s going to be a lot easier to win the presidency re-election in 2012 if we’re sitting on Democratic governors,” she said.
In the meantime, there are major policy issues facing Democrats now that could have big repercussions when voters go to the polls in 2010. Among them: the president’s decision on whether to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.
“There’s significant risk for the president and his party,” Rothenberg said, adding that any decision could end up being the “wrong” one.
Health care reform will have long-term political effects as well, both analysts said, and perhaps the greatest will be divisions within the majority party.
And a perception of a divided Democratic party could likely translate to a blow at the polls.
Rothenberg said: “Voters hate it when the party in control appears to be divided.”


Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments