Census Controversies and the Illegal Immigration Debate
The 2010 census is still more than five months away -- with the national count scheduled for April 1 -- and it has already produced three separate controversies involving Latinos and illegal immigration.
1. For the last several months, immigration activists and Latino advocacy groups have been discreetly lobbying the census bureau to ask immigration officials to suspend worksite raids long enough to carry out the census. The argument was that illegal immigrants -- and for that matter, legal immigrants with family members who may be undocumented or who are themselves unnerved by a climate of immigrant-bashing -- would be too afraid to participate in the survey. Recently, census officials announced that they would not ask the Department of Homeland Security for a moratorium on immigration raids. And with that, one government agency stood up to public pressure and refused to tell another one how to conduct its affairs.
2. Meanwhile, two Republican senators -- David Vitter of Louisiana and Bob Bennett of Utah -- want to exclude illegal immigrants from the survey by requiring that the census bureau, for the first time, ask people whether they're in the country illegally. They’ve proposed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would stop funding for the 2010 census unless the changes are made. The current policy, in effect since the first census in 1790, allows the government to ask whether respondents are foreign-born, but not their legal status. That’s because the census is supposed to count all "residents,” including illegal immigrants. The senators want to change that, even if it means shortchanging states with large immigrant populations.
3. Finally, while some Latino activists are worried about illegal immigrants not participating in the census, others -- including the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders and the Mexican American Political Association -- are urging that all 47 million Latinos boycott the census as a way of protesting White House foot-dragging on immigration reform and what they see as the Obama administration's heavy-handed enforcement measures (i.e., building fences, conducting worksite raids, and deporting illegal immigrants). Clearly, the activists are disappointed, but that’s no excuse for being self-destructive. After all, the redistricting process will take place in state legislatures in the months following the survey.
The request to suspend immigration raids is out of line. Not only are immigration raids a necessary and legitimate tool for the government to use as it tries to curb illegal immigration, they are also not linked to the census in any way whatsoever. Federal officials aren't raiding homes. They're raiding businesses in search of illegal immigrants. How would that kind of activity make people afraid to answer the door at home? Shouldn't they be afraid to go to work?