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Why Counting Undocumented Immigrants in the 2010 Census Counts for a Lot

Not counting undocumented immigrants could slow recovery from the economic recession and lead to bad public policies based on incomplete and inaccurate census information.

John S. Baker, professor of constitutional law at Louisiana State University, has an op-ed featured in Monday’s Wall Street Journal in which he frets that including undocumented immigrants in Census Bureau data will result in a “malapportionment of Congress.” What Baker doesn’t tell you is that not counting undocumented immigrants could slow recovery from the economic recession and lead to bad public policies based on incomplete and inaccurate census information.


Baker argues that the census should only count citizens and legal permanent residents. Baker complains that, by his math, “illegal aliens” could result in California getting nine House seats “it doesn’t deserve.” According to Baker:

The U.S. Census Bureau is set to count all persons physically present in the country—including large numbers who are here illegally. The result will unconstitutionally increase the number of representatives in some states and deprive some other states of their rightful political representation. Citizens of ‘loser’ states should be outraged…The Census Bureau can of course collect whatever data Congress authorizes. But Congress must not permit the bureau to unconstitutionally redefine who are “We the People of the United States.”

However, Baker forgets that the census serves many other purposes, namely the allocation of scarce federal resources for states and localities. Census data is used to distribute federal funding and Community Development Block Grants that benefit all residents.

In a recently released report, the Drum Major Institute (DMI) shows that not counting undocumented immigrants would lead to inaccurate demographic information and result in costly mistakes in infrastructure, education, and healthcare planning. DMI points out that businesses also rely on accurate social, economic and demographic census information so they can make smart investment decisions. DMI cites a PricewaterhouseCoopers study of the 2000 Census which projected a loss of $4 billion from 2002 to 2012 for the District of Columbia and 31 affected states due to undercounting of the total population.

Finally, DMI argues that “leaving out undocumented immigrants deprives citizens of political power and political voice.” While Baker worries about the fate of “loser” states, DMI points out that concerns about “vote dilution are misplaced.” Children, ex-felons, legal residents, and several other nonvoters are also included in the census apportionment data in order to paint an accurate portrait of a state’s demographic makeup and population density that’s key to effective and adequate representation.

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Michelle Chen at the Colorlines Blog points out that excluding undocumented immigrants from the census is usually proposed by nativists who care more about making “a politically invisible population disappear,” than rational policy-making.

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Anti-immigrant zealot Mark Krikorian himself criticized Baker for conflating “illegal aliens” with legal residents, describing his faulty logic as being “sloppy and poorly thought-out.” Krikorian isn’t much more enlightening. He suggests either asking census participants about their immigration status (which would increase distrust and dissuade most foreign residents from cooperating) or stepping-up hardline immigration enforcement measures to “scare off illegals” altogether.

Meanwhile, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that many immigrants are leaving California, which could cost the state a House seat after the 2010 census is completed. In the case of Baker’s homestate, immigrants have given Louisiana a much-needed population boost and helped rebuild its infrastructure following the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

andrea nill

Andrea Christina Nill

Andrea Christina Nill

Republished with permission from the Wonk Room/Think Progress