WASHINGTON — A coalition of black, Latino and Asian lawmakers on Thursday expressed opposition to a proposal that would require next year’s census forms to ask about the status of a person’s citizenship.
The House lawmakers criticized a proposal by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, as a political ploy designed to discourage immigrants from participating in the high-stakes count, which begins April 1.
They also echoed warnings from the Census Bureau that making a last-minute change to the census would add burdensome costs to print new forms and prevent the head count from being completed on time, as legally required.
“Every census since 1790 has included citizens and noncitizens alike, and presidential administrations of both parties have repeatedly upheld counting all persons residing in the United States,” Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said at a news briefing.
She was joined by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., as well as leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“With only 160 days until the census, Congress should be encouraging constituents to get counted, not debating the contents of the questionnaire,” Velazquez said.
The Republican proposal, which currently remains in limbo in the Senate, would freeze Census Bureau funds if it doesn’t add the citizenship question to the more than 600 million forms. More than 400 million have already been printed.
Vitter has said the goal of his measure is to ultimately block illegal immigrants from being included in the decennial count, which is used to apportion House seats, redraw congressional boundaries and distribute billions of dollars in federal aid.
“If the current census plan goes ahead, the inclusion of non-citizens toward apportionment will artificially increase the population count in certain states, and that will likely result in the loss of congressional seats,” he said.
In House testimony this week, Census Director Robert Groves said he opposed the Senate proposal. He noted that the exact wording of the questionnaire was made available to Congress last year and that there was no opposition then.
“I can say with absolute confidence, that if we add a question to this census questionnaire at this point, we will not deliver the reapportionment counts in 2010 on time, and we will not provide the data for redistricting,” he said.
The census has long disproportionately missed minorities. In 2000, the bureau noted for the first time an overcount of 1.3 million people, due mostly to duplicate counts of whites with multiple residences. About 4.5 million people were missed, mostly blacks and Hispanics.
California, with its slowing population growth, could lose a House seat if its high numbers of Asian and Hispanic immigrants — both legal and illegal — aren’t fully counted.
New York City faces challenges with a resident population that is more than one-third foreign born. The state is projected to lose either one or two House seats.
Florida could pick up one or two seats depending on a count of residents, who have seen high rates of mortgage foreclosures. Arizona, North Carolina and Texas also stand to gain seats.
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