Posted on December 27, 2019

Immigration and Political Power

Mark Krikorian, National Review, December 27, 2019

Many skeptics of immigration fear that it moves the country’s political center of gravity leftward. This is usually in the context of immigrants voting disproportionately for Democrats.


But perhaps the most immediate political effect of immigration is on the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives (and, therefore, of electoral votes). States with a disproportionate share of immigrants — most of them blue — have more political power in Washington than they would otherwise have without immigration.

With the 2020 census only a few months away, my colleagues Steven Camarota and Karen Zeigler decided to look at what the cumulative effect of immigration on the apportionment of House seats is likely to be once the census results are in.

This matters because there’s a fixed number of seats in the House of Representatives and thus a fixed number of electoral votes. (The number of House seats was set by law in 1911.) After each census, House seats and electoral votes are reshuffled among the states based on which ones saw their populations grow and which didn’t.

Our study found that the presence of all immigrants (naturalized citizens, legal residents, and illegal aliens) and their U.S.-born minor children is responsible for a shift of 26 House seats.


Some people misunderstood this to mean that 26 seats would be reallocated next year due to immigration; I even got some panicked calls about it. But that is not the case. Instead, this is the cumulative impact of decades of immigration, not the change from the 2010 census.

Twenty-four House seats may not sound like much until you realize that flipping just 21 seats would flip control of the House in the current Congress.


The politically redistributive effect of immigration is so notable because, unlike during past waves of immigration, the majority of population growth comes from immigration. That means Congress is essentially using immigration — which is, after all, just another federal government program, rather than some natural force like the weather — not only to engineer the future size of America’s population but, because immigrants are inevitably concentrated in a handful of states, also to engineer its distribution. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to describe the federal immigration program as a national-level analogue to gerrymandering.


The moral of the story is not that immigrants shouldn’t be counted in the census — the Constitution requires that representatives be apportioned based on “the whole Number of free Persons.”