News from Around the Americas | December 2005
|Republican Wants to Change Census Count|
Alan Elsner - Reuters
Washington - A Republican lawmaker on Tuesday proposed changing the U.S. Constitution to exclude non-citizens from the Census for the purpose of drawing congressional districts, a move that effectively would deny them a voice in U.S. politics.
|Michigan Rep. Candice Miller on Tuesday proposed changing the Constitution to exclude non-citizens from the Census for the purpose of drawing congressional districts, a move that effectively would deny them a voice in U.S. politics.|
Under the present system, as determined by the 14th amendment to the Constitution, the Census Bureau counts all individuals living in the country once every 10 years. This data is used when drawing up the 435 congressional districts and when determining each state's vote in the Electoral College that decides presidential elections.
Michigan Rep. Candice Miller wants to change that so that both legal and illegal aliens would be excluded.
"This is about fundamental fairness and the American ideal of one man or one woman, one vote," Miller told a hearing of the House of Representatives subcommittee on federalism and the census called to debate the matter.
Miller's proposal comes amid a growing tide of anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly among Republicans in the House of Representatives. Several proposals are under consideration to toughen border controls and make it more difficult for employers to give jobs to illegal aliens.
Supporters of the amendment argue that the presence of non-citizens caused nine seats in the House of Representative) to change hands between states in 2000.
California gained six seats it would not have otherwise had, while Texas, New York and Florida each gained one seat. Meanwhile, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin each lost a seat and Montana, Kentucky and Utah each failed to receive a seat they would otherwise have gained.
"Immigration takes away representation from states composed almost entirely of U.S. citizens so that new districts can be created in states with large numbers of non-citizens," said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors a slowdown of legal immigration and tough enforcement against illegal aliens.
According to Clark Bensen of Polidata, a Virginia firm which analyses demographic information, excluding non-citizens would have boosted President George W. Bush's margin of victory in the Electoral College from 4 to 12 votes in the disputed 2000 election and from 34 to 42 in 2004.
Miller's proposal ran into fierce resistance from Democrats and Hispanic leaders as well as from a former head of the Census Bureau who said it would politicize the count, diminish public confidence in the census and make it more inaccurate.
"The Census Bureau cannot become a quasi-investigatory agency and still perform its basic responsibilities as a statistical agency," said Kenneth Prewitt who headed the agency from 1998 to 2000 and oversaw the last national census.
"Lawful members of our society who pay income, property and sales taxes as well as for your and my Social Security, will ask why they are being denied the earliest and most basic right of our democracy -- political representation," Prewitt said.
Lawrence Gonzalez of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said the proposal harked back to the days before the abolition of slavery when blacks were only counted as three fifths of a person.
According to the 2000 census, there were 31 million foreign-born people in the United States, of whom an estimated 60 percent were non-citizens. No one knows exactly how many illegal immigrants are present in the country but most experts estimate the figure at between 10 to 12 million.
Constitutional amendments must be approved by a two thirds majority of both houses of Congress and ratified by 38 states. Only 27 amendments have been passed in U.S. history, the first 10 as the Bill of Rights in 1791. The most recent amendment to pass, which provided that any change in the salary of members of Congress may only take effect after the next election, was first proposed in 1789 and finally ratified in 1992.