On Thursday, Democrats derailed a push by Republicans in the Senate to include a citizenship question on next year’s census. The proposal had sparked a contentious debate over whether all people or only citizens should be used to determine how congressional representatives are allocated to states.
The proposal was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana and Robert Bennett of Utah. They sought to have non-citizens excluded from the population numbers used to allocate congressional seats, saying states with large illegal immigrant populations have an unfair advantage.
“The system is broken, and areas of the country with high illegal populations should not be rewarded with greater representation in Congress,” said Bennett, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
While adding a citizenship question might have benefited states with few immigrants, it would have hurt states like Arizona that have high numbers of illegal immigrants, said Andrew Reamer, a fellow at Brookings, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.
The census is aimed at counting everyone, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Adding a citizenship question would have heightened concerns among illegal immigrants already worried that filling out the forms could give the government information to deport them, Reamer said.
An undercount could make Arizona vulnerable to losing a congressional seat. Arizona’s illegal-immigration population already is declining due to stepped-up immigration enforcement and the recession driving undocumented immigrants out of the state. In 2007, researchers estimated Arizona had as many as 500,000 illegal immigrants, or about 9 percent of the state’s total population, the highest proportion of any state. A study by the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the state’s undocumented population has dropped by a third since then.
An undercount also could reduce Arizona’s share of $500 billion in federal funding allocated annually to states to pay for a variety of programs and services, Reamer said. In 2008, Arizona received about $8.2 billion in federal funding, he said.
On Thursday, all 58 Democrats plus the two Democratic-leaning independents in the Senate voted to block the citizenship question from moving forward. Thirty-nine Republicans, including Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, voted to keep it alive. Arizona’s other Republican senator, John McCain, did not vote. But he indicated beforehand that he supported the proposal to add a citizenship question to the census.