The Corner


Immigration and Political Power

Immigrants at a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles in 2018. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Many skeptics of immigration fear that it moves the country’s political center of gravity leftward. This is usually in the context of immigrants voting disproportionately for Democrats, which they do because of their greater preference for left-of-center policies (as this exhaustive analysis of survey data shows).

Immigration also helps the Left by exacerbating social problems (such as the lack of health insurance or stagnating wages for less-skilled workers) that the Left then points to as the rationale for more statism. (I discussed that here.)

But perhaps the most immediate political effect of immigration is on the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives (and, therefore, of electoral votes). States with a disproportionate share of immigrants — most of them blue — have more political power in Washington than they would otherwise have without immigration.

With the 2020 census only a few months away, my colleagues Steven Camarota and Karen Zeigler decided to look at what the cumulative effect of immigration on the apportionment of House seats is likely to be once the census results are in. 

This matters because there’s a fixed number of seats in the House of Representatives and thus a fixed number of electoral votes. (The number of House seats was set by law in 1911.) After each census, House seats and electoral votes are reshuffled among the states based on which ones saw their populations grow and which didn’t.

Our study found that the presence of all immigrants (naturalized citizens, legal residents, and illegal aliens) and their U.S.-born minor children is responsible for a shift of 26 House seats. Twenty-four of those seats come from states that voted for President Trump in 2016. Ohio will have three fewer seats than it would have had without immigration; Michigan and Pennsylvania, two fewer seats each. California will have 11 more seats than it would have had without immigration; New York and Texas, four more each.

Some people misunderstood this to mean that 26 seats would be reallocated next year due to immigration; I even got some panicked calls about it. But that is not the case. Instead, this is the cumulative impact of decades of immigration, not the change from the 2010 census.

Twenty-four House seats may not sound like much until you realize that flipping just 21 seats would flip control of the House in the current Congress.

If you narrow the target groups, you get a smaller effect, but it’s still significant. Removing from the count only the immigrants themselves shifts 18 seats; non-citizens shift eight seats. Interestingly, the presence of illegal aliens redistributes only three seats, meaning the political consequences of immigration are driven mainly by very high legal numbers, not ineffective border security. 

The politically redistributive effect of immigration is so notable because, unlike during past waves of immigration, the majority of population growth comes from immigration. That means Congress is essentially using immigration — which is, after all, just another federal government program, rather than some natural force like the weather — not only to engineer the future size of America’s population but, because immigrants are inevitably concentrated in a handful of states, also to engineer its distribution. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to describe the federal immigration program as a national-level analogue to gerrymandering — while state legislators draw district lines around where people already live to maximize political advantage, Congress is importing people who will disproportionately settle within certain pre-existing state lines, skewing the balance of political power.

The moral of the story is not that immigrants shouldn’t be counted in the census — the Constitution requires that representatives be apportioned based on “the whole Number of free Persons.” Instead, Congress needs to consider the political consequences of immigration in addition to its economic and social and other consequences.

The Democrats have been fairly open about using immigration as a political strategy. When Barney Frank was still in Congress, he openly acknowledged that mass immigration (again, most of it legal) is a key part of Democrats’ strategy to gain political power. Likewise, Eliseo Medina, an official in the SEIU and the Democratic Socialists of America, made the same point after Obama’s election, saying that immigration “will solidify and expand the progressive coalition for the future.”

Democrats are consciously and openly using the policy of admitting more than one million legal immigrants every year to shift the political balance of power in their favor. What are Republicans doing? Following the Stupid Party stereotype. The administration’s immigration plan, overseen by Jared Kushner and expected to be released early in the new year, will reportedly set in stone the legal immigration level of 1 million-plus each year, and thus continue the shift of political power toward blue states.

Among the many benefits of a more moderate level of legal immigration — say, a reduction of a quarter to a third, as under the Raise Act, which the White House earlier endorsed — would be to reduce the downstream political fallout of immigration.


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