Border states in America's South and West are battlegrounds in the debate over illegal immigration, but when it's time to pass out seats in Congress, they are beneficiaries as well, a new study says.
Because of their large populations of undocumented residents, Texas and Arizona will each get one extra seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 Census, the Connecticut State Data Center projects in a report being released today. California will keep two seats it otherwise would have lost.
Overall, the South and West each stand to gain five seats in the House, the center at the University of Connecticut says. If it weren't for their populations of illegal immigrants, each of these regions would gain only three.
The big loser in the reapportionment will be the Midwest, the center says. Five states in that region are projected to lose a total of six seats, four more than they would have if illegal immigrants were not included in the census tally.
Connecticut, which lost a seat in the last reapportionment, should keep the five it now has, but the Northeast as a whole will lose four - two in New York and one each in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
There's more than congressional clout at stake in the reapportionment: It also helps determine the makeup of the Electoral College. And the census itself influences everything from federal aid to the makeup of state legislatures. So as the 2010 Census approaches, attention is turning to the issue of whether it's fair to continue counting illegal immigrants.
Orlando J. Rodriguez, manager of the Connecticut State Data Center and author of the new report, considered that issue when designing the study. He figured the reapportionment two ways - one in which all residents are counted, as is currently done, and one in which illegal immigrants are factored out. Although politics watchers have been handicapping the 2010 reapportionment almost since 2000 was completed, Rodriguez said this is the first study he knows of to factor in the immigration question.
In part, the shift expected in 2010 is the result of a long-term population trend that has states in the South and West growing far faster than states in the Northeast and Midwest. In the 1960s, the Northeast and Midwest had 233 seats in the House, the South and West 202. The numbers roughly reversed two decades later, and now stand at 183 to 252. The new CSDC report projects that the South and West will have 262 seats to 173 for the Northeast and Midwest after 2010.
The winners and losers don't fall strictly along regional lines. New Jersey, for example, with the highest proportion of undocumented workers in the Northeast, would lose one seat if illegal residents were not counted, according to the CSDC projection. Montana would gain a seat if they weren't counted. Louisiana, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is expected to lose a seat regardless.
The new report suggests that the country's illegal immigrant population is playing an increasing role in congressional apportionment. After the 2000 Census, an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies found that illegal immigrant populations affected the apportionment of four seats. The CSDC report projects that six seats will be affected by undocumented residents after 2010.
The projections are based on the most reliable data available, Rodriguez said, but studying the undocumented residents population is imprecise at best.
"Nobody really knows for sure," he said. "The bottom line is not `Is this specifically going to happen?' What I was trying to get across is, `Look at the impact [illegal immigration] is having.'"
Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the impact is cause for concern. "You can make a strong case that there is a fundamental unfairness about this," Camarota said. "You do raise competing questions of fairness, justice, one man-one vote."
Counting illegal immigrants gives some voters disproportionate political clout. For example, Montana, which missed out on an additional seat after 2000 because of the weight of illegal immigrants elsewhere and is projected to fall short again after 2010, had almost 650,000 registered voters last November and one representative in Congress.
By contrast, California, which would lose two of its 53 seats after 2010 if illegal immigrants weren't counted, according to the projections, has four districts each with fewer than 200,000 voters registered. One district has fewer than 170,000 voters.
"You can win election [to Congress] in California with less than 50,000 votes," Camarota said.
But that's beside the point, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. The size of the electorate has nothing to do with representation in Congress.
Members of Congress "are elected to represent constituents. They don't just represent citizens," Vargas said. "They don't just represent the people who vote for them. They represent everybody in that congressional district."
Vargas said the framers of the Constitution drew distinctions among various classes of residents at various points. When it came to apportioning seats in Congress, he said, everyone was counted - although slaves were only counted as three-fifths of a person. "Would we go back to a time when we considered a person here to be less than human, less than a whole person?" he said.
At a time when illegal immigration in general is under heightened scrutiny, its connection to the census and reapportionment is likely to get renewed attention. One question that has already come up is how immigration enforcement might affect the count.
In 2000, the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service suspended raids before and after the census so as not to deter undocumented residents from responding. Earlier this year, when a census official raised the possibility of a similar freeze in 2010, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement firmly ruled out the possibility.
Camarota and Vargas agreed that the question of what ICE does in 2010 depends on who is elected president in 2008.
"Under the unlikely circumstance that the Republicans win and they institute a comprehensive enforcement strategy, who knows?" Camarota said. "It could reduce the number of illegals significantly, and it could reduce the response rate."
But Vargas said the Constitution charges the government with counting everyone in the census.
"So the federal government needs to have some common sense about what its other agencies are doing that is going to compromise its constitutional duty to enumerate all persons," he said.
The other question is whether there will be renewed efforts to keep undocumented residents - or all noncitizens - out of the reapportionment count. Anti-illegal immigrant groups and states losing representation have been unsuccessful in court over the issue in the past, and Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, which lost one seat after 2000 and is projected to lose another after 2010, has proposed a constitutional amendment to limit the reapportionment count to citizens.
Margo J. Anderson, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and author of several books and papers on the census and reapportionment, said it's hardly a new question.
"It's an old issue. It goes back to 1790," she said. "Every time there is in some sense a political crisis in the country or a sectional dispute, the communities that think they're not going to gain from it take a hard look at it and wonder whether the rules are fair."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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