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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

 
Just Don't Count 'Em

Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report is filling in for Kevin over at Political Animal and he has an interesting post up about the new movement to deny automatic citizenship to babies born in the United States. It's one of those Lou Dobbs obsessions that's gaining ground among the wingnuts.

His post reminded me of another Dobbsian boogeyman that I've been meaning to discuss which will have a very pernicious effect on politics if it is enacted: the anti-immigrant fanatics want to change the census to only include citizens. And they quite openly say it is because they want to change the make-up of the congress.

This is another one of those Karl Rove specials. It's ostensibly about the scourge of illegal immigration, and plays perfectly into people's cultural anxieties, but it's really about structural political change.

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's exceedingly interesting book Off Center talks (among other things) about how the Republicans have gone about creating a "backlash proof" system in which Republican seats are safe no matter how unpopular their beliefs or voting records are in the country at large. It's a huge part of their long term strategy to change the political system in their favor. The book doesn't mention this specifically, but it's exactly the kind of thing that Karl and Tom would try to push to assure a long term majority.

This article in the Arizona Republic, shows that the estimate is that the seats lost would mostly be in Democratic states:

The U.S. Constitution should be changed so that only legal citizens can be counted when determining a state's number of congressional districts, a Republican lawmaker argued Tuesday.

"This is about fundamental fairness and the American ideal . . . of one man or one woman, one vote," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich, testifying to a U.S. House subcommittee on federalism and the census.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that, "Representatives of the (U.S.) House shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state . . . "

But Miller, backed by 29 House co-sponsors, is pushing a vote on an amendment that would change the word "persons" to "citizens," excluding non-citizens as a factor in determining how many of the 435 U.S. House seats each state gets.

According to the 2000 census, there were more than 18 million non-citizens in the country, representing about 6.6 percentof the nation's total population. They included as many as 8 million undocumented immigrants, along with guest workers, foreign students or others on temporary visas.

[...]

Recent studies, including one in May by the Congressional Research Office, show that had only citizens been counted in the most recent apportionment based on the 2000 Census, California - with more than 5.4 million non-citizens -- would have six fewer U.S. House seats.

Texas, New York and Florida would each have one seat less.

Lower-immigration states like Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Wisconsin and Indiana would each have one more seat.

There could be a shift of 10 seats affecting 15 states if non-citizens are excluded in 2010, according to early projections by Polidata, a Lake Ridge, Va., firm that analyzes demographic information.

Arizona would not lose any of its seats. The state's 462,239 non-citizen residents represent 9 percent of its total population - the seventh highest percentage in the nation. However, even if these individuals were not counted, Arizona's population would still be high enough to still qualify for eight congressional seats in 2010.

But removing non-citizens from those calculations would have impact within the state. Arizona's congressional district lines would have to be drawn much differently than they are now to equalize "citizen" representation.

For instance, based on their existing congressional districts, Rep. Rick Renzi, a Republican, is currently representing 620,000 "citizen" residents in his largely rural district, while Rep Ed Pastor, a Democrat, represents 480,000 citizen residents in his central-southwest Valley district. If non-citizens are no longer be counted , both Renzi' and Pastor's districts - as with all of Arizona's congressional districts -- would have to be redrawn so that they have more-comparable citizen numbers.


... an estimated 10 million legal permanent residents in the nation who are eligible to become citizens are Latino, and that 77 percent of these Latinos live in California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey or Arizona.

While not disputing there are large undocumented populations in these states, Gonzalez said, "the reality is that these states also have hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are law-abiding citizens, have played by the rules and are preparing to become full participants in this nation."

Kenneth Prewitt, director of the Census bureau from 1998-2000, warned Miller's amendment would lead to less cooperation by immigrants who are already too often wary of census takers, and a less complete and less accurate census.


I think it's pretty clear which party would benefit from this, don't you? It's true that a couple of upper midwest swing states might gain a seat or two, but for the most part it's the big blue population centers that will suffer. And you can bet that the necessary gerrymandering that comes with such a scheme will be well planned to take care of Republicans in states in which immigrant communities suddenly "disappear" from the body politic.

These are the little landmines that Karl and company have set throughout our political structure that are going to have reverberations for decades. Right now the immigration debate is dividing the GOP more than the Republicans and Democrats. But who knows where things will be in a couple of years? Karl and company play the long game and bet that it's always better to institutionalize their strict numerical advantage.

Short term they may be trying to play to the hispanic vote, but ultimately it's all about solidifying their base to such an extent that they never have to do more than win a few showy races to maintain a majority. Big business doesn't care one bit about whether legal and illegal immigrants are represented in the census. If it takes the heat off of the cheap labor debate, they would be perfectly happy to support it. And this feeds the angry white vote nicely.

This is how you keep a political machine well oiled and working even if you wind up spending quality time in a federal prison. The mob works this way too.



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