Illegal residents unwelcome, except in census years

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mississippi doesn’t have enough residents living here illegally and will be penalized as a result.

Sound strange?

Well, it is.

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Here’s the deal:

• In 2010, as directed by the nation’s founders, the federal government will conduct a headcount.

• The results of that headcount will be used for the ensuing decade to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states and to allocate all sorts of federal goodies that exist today and those to be created in years to come.

In a rational world, it would make sense, as part of the headcount, to tally citizens and noncitizens separately.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail.

That’s because the fundamental reason for ordaining a decennial census in the first place was to assure balanced representation of citizens (voters) in the nation’s largest lawmaking assembly. It was only later that census data also became the template for goodies. So it can’t make sense to include noncitizens (nonvoters) as having equal standing, can it?

That’s a point U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is trying to make — tossing in that including illegal residents of other states in the last census has already cost Mississippi one House seat.

“Following the 2000 census, Mississippi went from five seats to four in the House of Representatives,” Wicker said. “The Center for Immigration Studies stated in a 2003 report that this loss was due to the counting of illegal immigrants elsewhere in the country.”

Wicker, who formerly served in the House, isn’t interested in jumping on the overly emotionalized and overly generalized anti-immigration bandwagon. An important point to make is that we are a nation of immigrants. Anthropologists say even Native Americans came here from somewhere else. And lots of today’s noncitizens are in the country legally, working legally and with every right, under law, to do so.

So what Wicker is doing is joining with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, to ask for a complete headcount, but with a separate tally of voting-eligible citizens to be used for House apportionment purposes.

Their effort will likely fall short for two reasons. One is that other states with more illegal residents can parlay their presence not only into a larger House delegation, but also an unfairly larger share of the approximately $400 billion in federal funding now being distributed to states each year based on census information. Second is that it’s politically incorrect or “stigmatizing” to ask a person if he or she is a U.S. citizen.

Be clear about how ridiculous this is: Under state and federal law, an employer who hires a noncitizen who is ineligible to work in the United States can be fined or sent to prison. However, census forms, already printed, contain no line to record citizenship information.

Wicker has some pretty compelling numbers. “Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows there are 298 million people currently living in the U.S., a number that includes 21 million noncitizens,” he said. The 21 million is an estimate, of course. The federal government demands to know about every penny of wages or other income people receive, but can only guess the number of people in the country without permission.

Anyway, the totals mean a House district would have approximately 635,000 voters or, if nonvoters are included, more than 685,000.  States with high numbers of illegal immigrants — California, Nevada, Texas, and New York — stand to gain House seats. California, which has 5.7 million noncitizen residents, could gain five or more seats.

It’s unlikely Mississippi will lose another House seat in the coming reapportionment. However other lower-immigrant states, including Louisiana, are right on the cusp.

Wicker said he’s been told, sorry, but it would be too costly to reprint forms to ask about citizenship. At least his colleagues have enough sense to argue the process, not the point, because they have to know Wicker is absolutely correct. “It is unfair for Mississippi or any other state to be forced to cede influence and federal representation to other states that have high noncitizen populations, particularly those that harbor illegal immigrants,” he said.

The best estimates say Mississippi has about 30,000 residents who are in the United States illegally. There are those who say any is too many and, in fact, Mississippi politicians make hay every year by hawking legislation to “halt the flow.” Consider, however, that for every “illegal” here, there are nearly 200 in California.

Might is making right on this topic in Washington. States with big numbers of illegal residents complain about them, too, but find them mighty welcome during census years.