On November 5th, 2009, the U.S. Senate voted 60-39, with one abstention, to reject Utah Senator Bob Bennett's proposed "Fairness in Representation Act", which would have required the U.S. Census Bureau to count illegal immigrants during the 2010 census. Media stories published by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.
The methodology of this vote was a bit convoluted, so pay attention. Senator Bennett's bill was appended on to a larger Commerce Department budget bill, H.R. 2847, and this amended version was put forth. But 58 Democrats and two left-leaning independents voted to move forward on H.R. 2847 WITHOUT Bennett's immigration amendment, while 39 Republicans opposed the proposal to move forward. Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, previously a champion of immigration reform, did not vote. View the full roll-call vote HERE.
Senator Bennett's bill would have merely required the U.S. Census Bureau to collect information about the citizenship status of each person contacted during the 2010 census, simply by adding a question box about the issue to the census form. It would have had no bearing on federal assistance, and the immigration information would not have been used by law enforcement to track down and deport illegal immigrants. His sole purpose was to remove non-citizens from the counts used to determine U.S. House representation.
But both Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Census Director Robert Groves opposed the bill, saying that it is far too late to add a question to the census forms, which are already being printed to prepare for their mass mailing in March. Doing so would carry a significant cost for reprinting and reprogramming computers. Bennett dismissed their argument, saying all the government would have to do is print an extra sheet of paper to mail along with the already-created questionnaire. Bennett's argument is sound, since the Census Bureau doesn't intend to mail out the questionnaires until March 2010, so there would be ample time for them to print the extra page - if they really wanted to.
Of course, this same Census Bureau that doesn't mind counting illegal immigrants can't seem to find a way to count LDS missionaries deployed outside the United States.
After the vote, Senator Bennett charged that Democratic leaders moved to side-step his amendment because the majority wants to have illegal residents included in the apportionment count so that states like California and New York can gain more congressional seats. He promised to continue to push for a citizenship question on the census in future years, so we can fairly determine congressional representation and ensure that legal residents are equally represented. A hat tip to Bob Bennett for his efforts, even if the primary motive is election year politics - and turning back the stiffening primary challenge posed by Cherilyn Eagar.