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Proposed census change would reveal undocumented immigrants

Author: Emily Mullin
Created: 23 October, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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3 min read

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON — Representatives of 29 civil rights organizations gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday to express their opposition to legislation that would require individuals to indicate their citizenship status in the 2010 census.

 Simon Rosenberg, president of the liberal Washington think tank NDN, said the amendment put forth by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Robert Bennett, R-Utah, will “undoubtedly politicize the census.”

 By law, the Census Bureau cannot share or reveal information about individuals. The proposed amendment would change that.

 Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said the amendment is unconstitutional. He compared it to the pre-Civil War three-fifths compromise that made slaves equal to three-fifths of one person.

 “Census 2010 is not a partisan issue, it’s a national issue,” Henderson said.

 Henderson said the amendment “seeks to play on public fears” about illegal immigration, which he said is unhealthy for the American people.

 Gloria Montaño Greene said she is concerned that the amendment would suppress the rate of Latino response to the census.

 “Just the talk of it has hurt some communities,” Montaño Greene said.

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 Representatives of the groups at the news conference agreed there is already a measure of distrust among immigrants and minority communities with the census, and the amendment would cause even more suspicion toward the U.S. government.

 Terry Ao, director of the Asian American Justice Center, said to add the new question to the census “at this time in the process would be catastrophic.”

 Census Day will fall on April 1, 2010, and those opposing the Vitter-Bennett amendment said there is not enough time to redo the census forms in less than six months. 

 Rosenberg also called the amendment unconstitutional and said it would be a tremendous expense for the U.S. Census Bureau and taxpayers.

 Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it would be a slight cost for taxpayers but said identifying illegal immigrants in the census should have been addressed earlier.  

 “People who are concerned about this question being added to the census never seem to be concerned with the cost of illegal immigration itself,” Mehlman said.

 Mehlman said FAIR, which works to stop illegal immigration, has been challenging the inclusion of illegal immigrants in reapportioning House districts since the organization formed in 1979.

 “Essentially, what we are doing is taking representation away from citizens in one state and giving it to illegal immigrants in other states,” Mehlman said.

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 “The system is broken, and areas of the country with high illegal populations should not be rewarded with greater representation in Congress,” Ben-nett said in a statement released earlier this month. “The decennial census is an overwhelming and extremely expensive undertaking and it must be done right.”

 Mehlman said the problem with including illegal immigrants in census information is that citizens’ votes are diluted.

 Mehlman said the proposed amendment shouldn’t discourage people from responding to the census, although he said, “there may be political leaders within the ethnic community that encourage people to not participate in the census.”

 Even with the census in just six months, Mehlman said there is time to add the question to the census forms.

 The Census Bureau did not respond to a request for comment.

 The Senate is expected to vote in the coming weeks on the amendment, which is part of the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill for 2010.

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