U.S. House Republicans pass bill to stop census from counting noncitizens

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A bill passed in the U.S. House Wednesday would add a citizenship question to the census and end the practice of including noncitizens in the official population count. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans passed a bill Wednesday to add a citizenship question to the census and exclude noncitizens from the official headcount when determining population for representation in Congress and electoral votes.

The legislation, which passed on a 206-202 party-line vote, is part of a trend of House GOP bills relating to immigration as the November elections approach. Republicans and their presumptive presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump, have centered their campaigns on immigration.

The Trump administration tried to add a citizenship question in the 2020 census but the Supreme Court blocked it.

“We should not reward states and cities that violate federal immigration laws and maintain sanctuary policies with increased Congressional representation,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement after the bill passed. “Common sense dictates that only American citizens should be counted for electoral apportionment.”

The bill, H.R. 7109, sponsored by North Carolina GOP Rep. Chuck Edwards would impact the 2030 census and onward if signed into law.

All people counted since 1790

The census, which occurs every 10 years, helps determine congressional seats in the House and can determine political power.

Since the first census in 1790, citizens and noncitizens have been included in the official population count of the U.S. due to the 14th Amendment’s requirement to include “whole numbers of persons in each State.”

Edwards argued during debate of the bill that the Constitution did not specify that noncitizens should be counted in the census.

He argued that the word “persons,” in the 14th amendment, “carries no definition.”

It’s unlikely to pass the Senate, which Democrats control by a slim margin, and the White House already put out a statement opposing the bill. 

The White House said the bill “would preclude the Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau from performing its constitutionally mandated responsibility to count the number of persons in the United States in the decennial census,” and would “make it more difficult to obtain accurate data.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring that the census remains as accurate as possible and free from political interference, and to upholding the longstanding principle of equal representation enshrined in our Constitution, census statutes, and historical tradition,” the White House said.

Numbers padded in Dem areas, GOP claims

During debate on the House floor, Republicans argued that areas that have high immigrant populations take away congressional representation from U.S. citizens and benefit states led by Democrats.

“This is absolutely outrageous,” Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana said. “This is 100% about stacking the vote.”

Tennessee Republican Rep. Tim Burchett said states with more noncitizens “will get more congressional districts and more electoral votes.” He said those votes would also benefit Democrats and “skew things in their favor.”

Democrats argued that the bill would not only violate the Constitution but also harm immigrant communities by undercounting, and could threaten the accuracy of the census.

“The census is essential to democracy,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin said. “This bill would destroy the accuracy of the census, which may have something to do with its actual motivations.”

Raskin added that the bill would not only carve out all noncitizens, including permanent residents with green cards “who are on the pathway to citizenship.”

Dems warn of  Hispanic undercount

Raskin said the GOP’s move to add a citizenship question for the 2020 census led to a chilling effect and undercount of communities of color, especially Hispanics.

Six states – Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas — counted fewer people in the 2020 census than were estimated to live there.

Nationally, there was a record undercount of Hispanics in the 2020 census of about 3 million, according to the Pew Research Center.

Eight states – Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah – had overcounts, according to Pew.

The chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán of California said the bill would have a chilling effect on accuracy of the census and would harm immigrant communities.

“It’s a bill that threatens fair and equal representation of immigrant communities,” she said.

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