Illegal Immigration Gives Cities Political Power

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
Here’s why the Left is so upset about that new census question.

The Commerce Department has announced that a question will be added to the 2020 Census asking about respondents’ citizenship status. Democrats have responded with fury, and twelve states, led by California, will be suing to stop the change. While their argument is that the question will discourage illegal immigrants from participating in the survey, there is another, related reason why the urban elites who now dominate the Democratic party are afraid of this simple question.

With this question, the 2020 Census will better quantify the extent to which immigration, including illegal immigration, gives Democrats disproportionate political power — despite the fact that immigrants themselves are not allowed to vote. This happens because seats in the House, and consequently Electoral College votes as well, are given out based on the total number of people residing in a state.

California illustrates the problem. While the Census Bureau stopped asking about citizenship on the main Census form in 1960, it has continued to ask about it in other surveys. One of these, the American Community Survey, shows that the non-citizen proportion of the population in the states varies widely, ranging from 14 percent in California to less than 1 percent in West Virginia. Based on these estimates, California, the first sanctuary state, has five or six more members of the House than it would if House seats were based on citizen population alone.

No wonder California fears and opposes the citizenship question. What could happen if Americans in other states start asking why California should get more members of Congress and electoral votes by defying the nation’s immigration laws?

Immigration has a profound effect on politics at the intra-state level as well. As between states, non-citizen immigrant populations are unevenly dispersed within states. They generally concentrate in urban areas, where they distort the apportionment of state legislatures and congressional seats even more than nationally. In my new book Fifty States, Not Six, I show how New York City has at least ten more seats in the 150-member assembly (the lower house of the New York State legislature) than it would if apportionment were based on the citizen population. In Illinois, Cook County (Chicago) has at least one extra seat in the U. S. House of Representatives based on counting its large non-citizen population. This pattern is found across the nation.

So, who benefits from these extra seats in the House of Representatives and state legislatures? It is not the non-citizen immigrants, who at least in theory are not allowed to vote. Instead, the votes for these extra seats go to the citizen residents of these urban areas. In Fifty States, Not Six I calculated that, owing to the presence of his non-citizen neighbors, a resident of New York City had 15 percent more voting power than did a New York State resident from outside the city.

California’s non-citizen residents give California voters (mostly Democrats) about 11 percent more voting power than Americans in states with smaller immigrant populations have. So when Democrats like California senator Dianne Feinstein claim that the Census question will “disenfranchise millions of California voters,” she is, of course, ignoring the comparative disenfranchisement of hundreds of millions of Americans in non-sanctuary states that respect the immigration laws.

The votes for these extra seats go to the citizen residents of these urban areas.

This is not the first time citizens have had unequal voting power. At the beginning, the Constitution provided that slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person in apportioning the House of Representatives. Slave states wanted slaves to be counted fully, even though slaves of course could not vote; these states argued that the votes of slave owners represented the interests of slaves. A similar argument was deployed against women’s suffrage: Husbands and fathers would represent the interest of their womenfolk at the ballot box. How long will it be before elite urban Democrats start justifying their extra voting power by arguing that their leftist policies represent the interests of their poor non-citizen neighbors?

When Democrats were raging against the Electoral College for putting Donald Trump in the White House, one of the institution’s darkest marks was its use to implement the three-fifths rule. But basing apportionment on gross population is deeply rooted in the three-fifths rule as well.

The comprehensive information the Census will now provide will make it feasible to apportion on the basis of the citizen population rather than the gross population. Unfortunately, a constitutional amendment may be needed to correct this imbalance on the federal level. (Such an amendment is proposed in Fifty States, Not Six.) On the other hand, states arguably could apportion their legislatures based on citizen rather than gross population, and with the 2020 Census they will now have the data to do that.

In addition to the simple issue of fairness, such a move could resolve a serious political problem plaguing many of our states. Within many states, politically competitive rural and suburban areas are dominated by overwhelmingly Democratic urban areas. These tensions exist between inland and coastal California, and in states across the country including Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and Florida. This has raised campaigns to split up states and created enormous political frustrations. Glenn Reynolds has proposed various constitutionally difficult ways of establishing a less unequal political balance within these states, short of secession. However, simply apportioning state legislatures on the basis of citizen rather than gross population might give suburban and rural areas enough sway to address their concerns.

One of the most fundamental questions for any representative democracy is how the representatives are selected. In our era of historically high immigration, the introduction of the citizenship questions on the Census should begin a much-needed debate about whether our country will be governed equally by all of its citizens.

James W. Lucas is an attorney in New York City and the author of Are We the People? How We the People Can Take Charge of Our Constitution and Timely Renewed: Amendments to Restore the American Constitution.

Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More