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Vitter: Democrats Want ‘Illegals Counted in Census’ to Boost House Numbers

“I think it’s pretty clear that Harry Reid and the Democratic side … wants illegals counted in the Census, wants illegals in the reapportionment of the House,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said on a conservative talk radio show late yesterday, as reported by The Hill.

Vitter is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) that would require census-takers to ask people about their immigration status as part of the survey, in order to exclude them from the apportionment process. Vitter yesterday claimed that illegal immigrants counted in the 2000 Census allowed California to gain up to five more seats in Congress than they’re actually entitled to have. But experts warn that changing the census questions at this stage of the process would be extremely costly.

The Vitter-Bennett amendment reportedly stalled passage (sub. req’d.) of the spending bill to which it was attached. The Senate voted no on cloture on Tuesday.

According to USA Today, the U.S. Census Bureau has asked people whether they are native or foreign-born since 1790, but it has never asked about their legal status. Immigrant advocacy groups oppose asking about immigration status because they say it’s already very difficult to get immigrants to participate in the census since they fear government reprisal, especially if they are in the United States illegally.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, among others, are actually calling for immigrants to boycott the Census unless laws are changed to give those here illegally a chance to gain legal status, though it’s not clear what exactly a boycott would accomplish.

“Already the public fears that the Census is too intrusive,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, told USA Today. “Asking about citizenship status “would raise more questions in the public mind about how confidential the Census is,” Vargas said.

Vitter yesterday claimed that Reid was “going through somersaults” to block a vote on the amendment because he worries that Democrats from states with low immigrant populations might vote for it.

Meanwhile, Congressional Quarterly reports (sub. req’d.) that Census experts oppose adding any new questions to the Census at this late stage because it would be extremely expensive to change the survey now and would delay the reapportionment process. And on Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said it’s too late to add the question now in time for next year’s census. TPM’s Christina Bellantoni reported that Locke cited in a memo the printing and shipping costs to replace the 300 million Census forms already produced. He also expressed concerns about the possible wording of the question.

“A change will require using untested content in the actual census, which may affect both response rates and data quality and cannot be implemented in time to deliver apportionment counts by the statutory deadline of December 31, 2010,” Locke wrote.

Former Census directors from both Republican and Democratic administrations (pdf) also urged the amendment’s defeat, reports CQ, saying the cost would be “almost incalculable.” Taxpayers have already spent about $7 billion preparing for the count. It begins April 1, 2010.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Website, “Census data are used to distribute Congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute $400 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.”

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