Census Chief : Bennet’s Immigration Bill Not Practical

Census chief: Bennett's immigration bill not practical

By Matt Canham
The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City), September 23, 2009

Washington, DC — Sen. Bob Bennett wants the Census to collect information on who is in the country illegally in its official 2010 count, but Census Director Robert Groves said that's not practical a mere six months before the questionnaires are mailed to every household.

'A lot of the forms are already printed,' Groves said Wednesday. 'That train has left for the 2010 Census clearly.'

Bennett, a Utah Republican who faces a tough re-election effort, introduced a bill last week that would add an 11th question to the Census forms asking if the person is a citizen or legal resident. He wants to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count used to apportion seats in the U.S. House.

'It does not make any sense for congressional seats and the Electoral College to be determined by a process that unfairly provides the advantage to those communities with high illegal populations,' Bennett said in announcing his legislation.

He acknowledged Wednesday that modifying the questionnaire would be a challenge, but said he is committed to working with the Bureau to find some way, such as a second page, to ask the question, if his bill passes.

Bennett's proposal has been met with criticism and charges that he is 'pandering' for votes by community activist Tony Yapias, the director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, while he has received praise from his Republican challengers and some conservative state lawmakers.

But Groves wouldn't weigh in on whether the idea — practical or not this late in the game — is a good one or not, saying it is 'the proper role of Congress' to discuss how the count should take place. He did note that singling out undocumented immigrants and removing them from the apportionment process would 'be a change from our history of many many, many decades.'

The Bureau does not currently ask any questions about immigration status in its 2010 count, but has collected such information in other surveys. The once-a-decade Census is used not only to determine how many House seats are given to each state, but also to split up $400 billion in federal funding and a number of other statistical purposes. Bennett's bill would not impact the distribution of money.

The Census has launched efforts to convince hard-to-reach populations, including minorities and undocumented immigrants, that the 2010 count is 'a safe' activity and that their information would be confidential.