Monday, November 2, 2009

CENSUS NEWS BRIEF - No 80 - November 1,2009


November 1, 2009 No. 80

Editor's note: This week's Census News Brief will be issued in two parts. The first (No. 80) will summarize recent activities related to the FY2010 Commerce appropriations bill and the pending Vitter-Bennett amendment. The second part will focus on operational updates, congressional oversight, and stakeholder activities. Also see our new Quick Links box, below.



Census stakeholder organizations stepped up their opposition to a proposal by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Robert Bennett (R-UT) to add new questions to the 2010 census on citizenship and immigration status, as Senate action on the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 2847) stalled for another week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's first attempt to end debate on the bill (called a 'cloture vote,' which requires 60 ayes) failed by three votes, with three Democratic senators absent. If a second attempt at cloture is successful, the Senate Parliamentarian would rule the Vitter-Bennett amendment out of order ("non-germane"), according to Republican staff quoted in several news articles. If the cloture vote fails, Sen. Vitter said he will modify the initial proposal to require a new question only on citizenship. Sen. Reid told Latino journalists during an October 29 news tele-conference that he was stalling further action on the Vitter amendment, comparing the proposed new census questions to vote suppression efforts aimed at African Americans, according to a report on the press conference posted on Nuestra Voice (

A coalition of civil rights and progressive advocacy groups held a press conference on October 20 to discuss their opposition to the Vitter-Bennett amendment. Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, described an accurate and inclusive census as "a civil rights imperative." Pointing to the original apportionment clause's treatment of slaves, Mr. Henderson said the Vitter amendment "echoes a shameful period when the census counted most African Americans as three-fifths of a person." Simon Rosenberg, President of NDN, a "progressive think tank and advocacy organization," questioned the amendment's motives and consequences, saying, "If enacted the Amendment would almost certainly disrupt an orderly census count next year, eventually found to be unconstitutional, all the while starting a highly divisive conversation about race, the Civil War and the 14th Amendment in the very first year of America's very first African-American President." Terry Ao, representing the Asian American Justice Center, a member of the Census Bureau's 2010 Census Advisory Committee, said asking about legal status is "unnecessarily intrusive" and would heighten already existing skepticism about the confidentiality and privacy of census responses.

Other groups participating in the press event included NALEO, Hispanic National Bar Association, MALDEF, People for the American Way, LULAC, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Demos, and Center for American Progress.

Two days later, members of the Congressional Tri-Caucus led a group of lawmakers discussing "the damaging ramifications of the Vitter-Bennett amendment to the successful implementation of the 2010 census." Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) noted that "presidents from both parties have repeatedly upheld the importance of counting each and every person residing in the United States," while CHC 1st Vice-Chair Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) said the census should not be used as "a political football." Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) highlighted the use of census data to allocate federal program funds and said, "Scare tactics will only serve to skew the Census data, driving people to not participate." Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and a member of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the Census Bureau, called the Vitter amendment "irresponsible and counterproductive." Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who also spoke at the press conference, said, "The census doesn't exist to score political points - it exists to give us an accurate picture of our country." "Immigrants who fear being deported, along with their families and friends, are much more likely to avoid the census" if the form included a citizenship question, the House Majority Leader concluded.

Conservative groups urge support for Vitter proposal: Countering opposition to the Vitter-Bennett amendment, the Eagle Forum called for support of the amendment "to crack down on the Obama Administration's handling of the 2010 census" and urged its members to "make sure your Senators feel the pressure!" "[T]he census is the only way to get an accurate count of how many illegal aliens are residing in the United States," the self-described leader of "the pro-family movement" said in an October 21 action alert. "By counting citizens and non-citizens alike for congressional reapportionment purposes, the federal government is doing a massive disservice to those states with lower illegal immigrant populations."

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) also issued an action alert in support of the amendment, suggesting that adding new questions to the census form would "lay the groundwork for reforming how Congressional seats are apportioned by disregarding illegal aliens and other non-citizens so that they are no longer able to affect the outcome of U.S. elections." FAIR, which describes itself as "a member organization of concerned citizens" that seeks, in part, to "stop illegal immigration and promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest," was a member of the Commerce Department's Decennial Census Advisory Committee in the early 1990s. The group filed an unsuccessful lawsuit before the 1980 census, FAIR v. Klutznick (486 F.Supp. 564, D.D.C. 1980), to exclude undocumented residents from the census apportionment counts; the case was dismissed for lack of standing. FAIR joined dozens of members of Congress in a similarly unsuccessful legal challenge in 1988 (Ridge v. Verity, 715 F.Supp. 1308, W.D. Penn. 1989).

Vitter says he will modify amendment to focus on citizenship: Sen. Vitter told his colleagues and reiterated in press statements over the past two weeks that he intends to modify his original proposal, which requires the Census Bureau to ask respondents about their citizenship and immigration status, to include a new question on citizenship only. (The original Vitter-Bennett amendment is still pending before the Senate and cannot be modified until the chamber begins consideration of the proposal.) Sen. Bennett, the amendment's other sponsor, has not said publicly if he supports his colleague's effort to change their initial proposal, and his position is not clear from earlier statements describing the amendment. The Utah senator sponsored legislation (S. 1688) to require questions on citizenship and legal status in the decennial census, but he has said he believes political representation should be based on the "number of legal residents of the United States" (

A new analysis for The New York Times by Dr. Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at City of University of New York's Queens College, examined the potential effects of excluding all non-citizens and only undocumented residents from the state population totals used for congressional apportionment. The study projects that Louisiana would retain its current seven congressional seats only if all non-citizens were excluded from the apportionment base. (The New York Times reported on the analysis in an October 28 print-edition article; the Times is a sponsor of Social Explorer, a web-based application that features census data for demographic comparisons and analyses. Dr. Beveridge leads the Social Explorer team and is a consultant to the Times.)

The decennial census has always counted all people, regardless of their immigration status, living in the United States on Census Day, for purposes of apportionment. The Constitution calls for an enumeration of "the whole number of persons in each State." The original Article I political compromise between northern and southern states, to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of allocating seats in the House of Representatives, was eliminated by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. (Both constitutional apportionment provisions exclude "Indians not taxed" from the political base.)

Louisiana delegation splits on support for Vitter: Six of Louisiana's seven House members joined Sen. Vitter in writing to the state's senior senator, Mary Landrieu (D), and Sen. Reid, urging them to allow a vote on Sen. Vitter's proposal. "This is both a crucial national issue and one that very directly impacts Louisiana," the lawmakers wrote on October 27. They cited an analysis by Elliott Stonecipher, who they described as a "demographer," and Louisiana State University law professor John Baker, projecting that the state would not lose a congressional district following the 2010 census if the state population totals used for apportionment included only citizens. Rep. Ahn "Joseph" Cao (R), whose district includes New Orleans, did not sign the letter.

Sen. Landrieu responded in a letter to Sen. Vitter, saying the amendment would "only do harm to our country by delaying the Census at [a] cost of approximately $1 billion to our already beleaguered taxpayers and to our state by stalling important projects," such as law enforcement grants based on census data. She noted that the Constitution requires a count of all "persons" for apportionment purposes and that it would take a constitutional amendment to change that directive. Sen. Landrieu also addressed the claim that excluding undocumented immigrants would save the state from losing a congressional seat. "[A]ny demographer worth his salt (which would not be Elliott Stonecipher) would tell you that Louisiana's probable loss of a seat would occur even if there was not one illegal immigrant in the United States," the senator wrote.

Louisiana was one of only two states to lose population over the past decade. Before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, apportionment projections showed the state retaining its full House delegation after the 2010 census. An August Wall Street Journal op-ed, authored by Mr. Stonecipher and Mr. Baker, suggesting that it is unconstitutional to include undocumented immigrants in the apportionment calculation, identified Mr. Stonecipher as a Louisiana pollster and demographic analyst, not a demographer. The authors alternated in their editorial between citing analyses that exclude only "illegal residents" and ones that exclude all non-citizens; they asserted at the start that apportionment should be based on a count of citizens and legal, permanent residents. (The op-ed is available at

House member offers counter-proposal to Vitter: Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) introduced legislation (H.R. 3855) to prohibit the Census Bureau from asking about citizenship or immigration status in the decennial census. The "Every Person Counts Act" would require the tabulation of the "total number of persons in each State" for apportionment purposes. The bill, with 31 cosponsors, was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

In a statement, Rep. Baca said the Vitter amendment "clearly violates the spirit of the Constitution" and "would cost our nation millions of dollars during this time of economic duress." The congressman said he introduced his measure "in direct response" to Sen. Vitter's proposal.

Temporary 2010 funding bill extended through mid-December: With only four of 12 regular appropriations bills signed into law for the fiscal year that started October 1, 2009, Congress passed a second Continuing Funding Resolution to keep federal agencies running through December 18. The first stop-gap bill expired on October 31. While most programs must continue operating at Fiscal Year 2009 funding levels, Congress carved out an exception for the Census Bureau, which received $7.066 billion to continue final preparations for the 2010 census. The FY2009 funding for the 2010 census was less than half that amount; limiting the agency to spending at the lower level, even for a couple of months, would have crippled major operations this fall, including Local Census Office openings, recruitment and hiring, and final paid media buys, leading up to the late January enumeration start in remote Alaskan villages.


Visit the Census Project web site for previous Census News Briefs, fact sheets, and a weekly blog in support of an accurate 2010 census:

The Census Project

NEW THIS WEEK! Updated analysis of federal program allocations, based in whole or in part on census data, for Fiscal Year 2008. Prepared by the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. Click on "Fact Sheets" for state-by-state, program (national), and program function (national) tables.

Census News Briefs are prepared by Terri Ann Lowenthal, an independent legislative and policy consultant specializing in the census and federal statistics. All views expressed in the News Briefs are solely those of the author. Please direct questions about the information in this News Brief to Ms. Lowenthal at Please feel free to circulate this document to other interested individuals and organizations. Ms. Lowenthal is a consultant to the nonpartisan Census Project, organized by the Communications Consortium Media Center in Washington, DC. Previous Census News Briefs are posted at


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