Lawmakers Concerned That Illegal Immigrants Counted in Census Will Shape Congressional Districts

By Josiah Ryan | April 3, 2009 | 10:26 AM EDT

( - Congressional Republicans who spoke with on Thursday expressed concern that illegal immigrants who will be counted in the 2010 census could distort the apportionment of congressional districts.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), however, told that he does not “know that there is a problem.” And Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the census process, said that while illegal immigrants’ contribution to the apportionment of congressional districts is “a concern,” it is a feature of the law.

The acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Thomas Mesenbourg, told on Wednesday that the bureau intends to work with community organizations to ensure that all illegal aliens in the United States are counted in the 2010 Census.
The current 435 House seats are divided among the states in proportion to their population, which is determined by the decennial census. States with more people get more seats in the U.S. House.

This means that a state harboring more illegal immigrants could gain more House seats as long as the Census Bureau finds the illegal aliens and counts them. It also means that the illegal alien population in the United States during a census year has the potential to alter the regional and philosophical balance of power in Congress.

“The country may have an interest in knowing how many people are here illegally, I don’t dispute that,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who serves on the subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Refugees, told
“But counting those numbers for the purpose of allocating resources or voting power in congressional districts to me is not the right approach and it’s not principled. It’s just another example of us not just accepting illegal immigration but almost affirming it. I think that’s unhealthy.”

But Hoyer told that that aspect of the census is a problem because many illegal aliens do not want to be counted.

“I don’t know that there is a problem,” Hoyer told “And one of the reasons I do not know there is a problem is because I don’t know that there are people who want to be counted -- illegal citizens that want to be counted. I imagine they make quite an effort not to be counted.”

But Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, which oversees the census process, said that while the number of illegal aliens residing in the United States that go into the calculation of congressional reapportionment is “a concern,” it is simply a feature of the way the law is currently crafted.

“That’s a concern,” Carper told “However, the law stipulates that we are supposed to count everybody, and it doesn’t differentiate.” 

“I have told you what I am going to tell you,” he said.

But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, told that while the Census should count every person “residing” in the country, it should differentiate between citizens and aliens.

“What there needs to be is a second count,” said Coburn. “That’s the problem.”

Despite his concerns, however, Sessions said he doubts the Democrat-controlled Congress will be able to leverage much change on the way congressional districts are reapportioned.

“Whether or not Congress would have the will to stand up to the president with the super-Democratic majority they have now—well, I doubt it,” said Sessions.

('s Nicholas Ballasy contributed to this report.)
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