Census citizen question about protecting small state interests

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 9, 2009

A U.S. Senate move Thursday to block a citizenship question fromnext year’s census will make maintaining congressionalrepresentation harder for states like Mississippi, Louisiana andothers with slower population growth.

The defeated legislation, offered by Sen. David Vitter, R-La.,was aimed at keeping non-citizens from being counted as part of astate’s population for apportionment efforts in the U.S. House ofRepresentatives.

Vitter’s effort would not have changed the way House seats areallocated to states, but would have denied Census Bureau funds ifthe question were not added. Opponents said the measure would beexpensive as more than 400 million forms for next year’s censushave already been printed.

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Another opponent contention was that the question would havediscouraged immigrants from responding to the form.

That’s correct, and that’s the point here. It is simply not fairfor smaller states like Mississippi and Louisiana to loserepresentation in the U.S. House to larger states like Californiathat have growing populations of non-citizens, many of whom may behere illegally.

Mississippi lost one of its five seats in the 435-member Houseof Representatives after the 2000 census. Louisiana is in aposition to lose one of its seven seats after next year.

Like many things in life, the census question comes down to amatter of how big a piece of the funding pie each state isgetting.

Billions in federal dollars are in large part based on how manypeople are in a given state. Those dollars, which are precious forstates like Mississippi, are jeopardized when congressionalrepresentation and votes are lost to other states.

This is not an anti-immigrant sentiment, as many serve animportant role in the U.S. economy by doing jobs that Americansjust will not do. Rather, the census question is a pro-small stateattempt to protect congressional representation that leads todollars that are so vital to the city, county and communityeconomies in those areas.