The U.S. Constitution mandates a census count every ten years for the purposes of political apportionment. Specifically, how the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are divvied up among the various states.
The census count is also used by the various states to draw their own political lines. Here in North Dakota, our lawmakers will commence redistricting once the 2020 census count is finalized.
But the Constitution doesn’t limit apportionment to citizens. Article I, Section 2 of our nation’s founding document originally stated that House seats shall be divided among the various states according to their “numbers” and that “numbers” means a count of the “free people” living there. That was later changed by the 14th Amendment, section 2 of which states: “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.”
You’ll note that nowhere in there is a reference to citizenship. Which is why the U.S. Census counts everyone in the country, including citizens and legal visitors and illegal immigrants.
Thus, like it or not, states or legislative districts with large numbers of illegal immigrants living in them potentially get the benefit of more political representation.
We are currently having a very intense national debate over whether or not the U.S. Census Bureau ought to ask respondents what their citizenship status us for the 2020 count. Asking about citizenship is perfectly reasonable, despite the Sturm und Drang from some who insist such questions are racist. Given how much time we spend debating immigration policy, wouldn’t it be helpful to know how many of those counted by census takers are citizens?
The problem is that asking the citizenship question may deter those here illegally from answering, which in turn can skew the count, but surely there are steps we can take to counteract that phenomena while still asking what is a perfectly legitimate question.
But the more important debate is whether or not the millions upon millions of illegal immigrants in America now should continue to skew the issue of political apportionment. Because that’s going to continue to be the case regardless of whether or not census takers ask the citizenship question.
Illegal immigration is, you know, illegal. Yet some communities, and some states, actively seek to protect illegal immigration. They refuse to cooperate with efforts to enforce immigration laws.
They are rewarded for these practices by a Census process which allows those non-citizen populations to count toward political apportionment. The cities and counties which lend themselves as sanctuaries to illegal immigrants, the states which fight federal efforts to locate and deport illegal immigrants, end up with more political clout in the form of more political representation.
Ironically, it’s political representation those non-citizen populations cannot legally vote for.
The sane thing to do would be to limit apportionment to a count of citizens, not just everybody who happens to be living in a given state in a once-every-decade moment when the census counters come around.
Sadly, we do not live in sane times. Most of the Democratic candidates for President in 2020 support making undocumented entry into the United States legal. They all support extending government benefits, like health care coverage, to these undocumented (currently illegal) immigrants.
It is frightening that such unserious policy proposals are being touted by ostensibly serious politicians.
What the United States should be focused on is an immigration process which is tough on illegal immigration, but easy on legal immigration.
But beyond that debate, we should end a political apportionment process which rewards the flouting of our existing laws.
That will require a constitutional amendment, which is a lengthy process with an unsure outcome given how divided our nation is these days, but it would be a better use of our time than trying to create an exemption from 1st amendment protections for flag burning.