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Senate kills census citizenship amendment

By Ed O'Keefe

Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) wanted the Census Bureau to ask about citizenship status next year.

Updated 2:28 p.m. ET

The Senate voted Thursday to block a Republican attempt to require the Census Bureau to ask people for their citizenship status during next year's decennial census.

Lawmakers voted 60 to 39 to effectively kill an amendment by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) that would have excluded illegal immigrants from population totals used to apportion Congressional seats in each state. The pair argued that the high numbers of illegal immigrants in larger, heavily-urbanized states would mean that at least nine other states would lose Congressional seats following next year's census. The proposed amendment would have been added to the 2010 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill.

Several immigration and civil rights advocacy groups said the proposal would lead to a severe undercount of Hispanics and other immigrant groups fearful of potential punishment. The Census Bureau warned that passage of the amendment would add billions of dollars in costs to the 2010 Census to print new forms and retrain workers. By law, the decennial census counts the actual number of people living in the United States, without regard to citizenship status.

Critics also noted that the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, states that "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state." (Emphasis added.)

"We commend the Senate for standing up for the Constitution and for sparing the nation from the damage the amendment would have done to the Census and to the civil rights of millions of people -- both native-born and immigrant -- who would have been discouraged from being counted had the amendment passed," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "We also hope that today's vote sends a strong message that the Senate is committed to a 2010 census in which every person counts and every person is counted.”

The Service Employees International Union had also opposed the measure, arguing it might have scared several of its members to not fill out census forms. SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina applauded the Senate's move, calling the Vitter-Bennett amendment a "misguided attempt to undercut 2010 enumeration efforts and mar this critical process with hateful, anti-immigrant politics."

By law, the decennial census only counts the actual number of people living in the United States and does not account for citizenship.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 5, 2009; 1:39 PM ET
Categories:  Census, Congress  
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I usually vote democrat but on this count, I think the Dems acted against the interest of citizens and lawful immigrants, on whose tax dollars the government runs. This vote will surely find a mention in the history books when decade later, this will be termed as a key moment in the unraveling of American system.

Posted by: ssensharma | November 5, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

It is outrageous that aliens, legal and illega, will be counted in the census. Another victory for Acorn and for the policy of the Democrats in giving out walk about money to minorities to get them to vote.

Posted by: ravitchn | November 5, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I am not a Republican but what is wrong with asking people in this country if they are citizens? It doesn't mean we are going to deport them after the census. I agree that the timing of this was bad because we don't want to spend more to change the census. But the next time we have a census, let's ask the question.

Posted by: Noway1 | November 5, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I am puzzled by the boldfaced and italic command to "Leave your thoughts in the comments section below." Usually that is more optional! But here goes.

The two people sponsoring this amendment were disingenuous. They knew it would fail. It was an old-school political stunt to force senators to take an unpopular vote that can be distorted out of context to hurt them in primary or general elections. This is preplanning for 2010 or 2012 attack ads, and certainly not doing the people's business.

As the text goes on to explain here, the amendment would have been both unconstitutional and financially incredibly wasteful, plus it's obvious from the vote they knew it was a waste of the Senate's time too and would go down in defeat. Sounds like a perfect summary of Republican politics as it is currently caricatured -- the Party of No at work in the Senate, wasting precious time and wanting to waste dollars as well.

This kind of thing is why people hate Washington games and gridlock.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | November 5, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

The question is worse than useless. How many people here illegally are going to admit that to a person who they see as representing the government who will deport them? Is the census worker going to require proof of citizenship?
This is nothing more than Vitter and Bennett playing to the anti-immigrant Republican base. Vitter especially needs to try to drum up all the support he can get.

Posted by: colton | November 5, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I think the question is flawed. It should not be asking about citizenship, it should be asking about legal presence. Immigrants who come here legally have every right to be counted in the Census and represented, and do not deserve to be lumped in with the lawbreakers who should not be counted.

Posted by: thetan | November 5, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

those that are illegal will be used to neutralize your vote one day soon...
thats how obama will win in 2012...

Posted by: DwightCollins | November 5, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Does any one actuall expect a democratic controll congress to allow the citizenship question to be asked. They are counting upon the flim flam of getting Acorn to register the Criminal Illigal Aliens to vote in the next election cycle for them. They know ACORN is a corrupt orgination and yet they continue to fund them so they can get the vote from the ILLIGAL ALIENS. This is probably the only way they will be able to try to stay in power and beleive me this is all about staying in power for them. The democrats do not care about anything else except an extremely libera adjenda of the destruction of America as we know it today. Civil right and freedoms are on the way out if they have thier way with the current pretender to the office of President.

Posted by: jmsmaxwell | November 5, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

"It is outrageous that aliens, legal and illega, will be counted in the census."

Take it up with the folks that wrote the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Posted by: Hillman1 | November 5, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Here's a happy medium, folks.
ASK the question. If the Census can ask how many toilets you have, your citizenship status is fair game.
What's DONE with the information is an entirely different issue.
I think it'd be useful to get at least some picture of the number of illegals here, even if the Constution requires that the citizenship status of census repsondents not impugn thier access to representaion under the reapportionment that ensues.

Posted by: OttoDog | November 5, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

This is Barack Hussein Obama at his finest! Neutralize the citizens of this country with his insane political moves. This is nothing but a democrat move to grab more (illegal) power by using the illegal aliens in order to reapportion the representation. Legal citizens will lose their power to the states that allow illegal immigrants.

Perhaps the Supreme Court will slap him down.

Posted by: AWWNats | November 5, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

The liberals like junk science so they want to block any true accurate head count.

Posted by: yokosuka1985 | November 5, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I mean you guys realize this is the way the Census has been administered for the past 210 years, right?

Posted by: terp12 | November 5, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Vitter, you need to stay out of the spotlight you prostitute loving creep.

Posted by: truth1 | November 5, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Citizenship information was asked in the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses (for which genealogists will be forever grateful). I don't see what's wrong with asking the question. As someone else said, how that information is used is another story. "Are you a citizen? If so, when did you become a citizen" is a very different question from "Are you a legal resident?"

Posted by: anotherbt | November 5, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I refer those who are frothing at the mouth about a census that counts all those in the country and apportions accordingly, to the text of the Constitution. And before excoriating the Democrats in the Senate they should better inform themselves.

Posted by: sg2000 | November 5, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Having examined hundreds of 1920 Census Records, I can attest that citizenship questions are nothing new for the Census. The 1920 Census form included information on State or Country of Birth. Foreign born recipients were asked for immigration dates and year of naturalization. If it could be done then, why is it taboo now?

How the information is used is a separate question. However, knowing how many immigrants, and whether or not they are naturalized citizens would provide our country with valuable information.

Posted by: bruce31 | November 5, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Both Senators have held federal elected office since the very early 1990's. Both they and their staffs know the rules. Census questions are fought over for about 8 years and are then pretty much carved in stone. They were both Senators during the 2010 census discussions, and they had plenty of opportunities to have this possibly useful question, or suitable variants, put in place. Their action is a last minute stunt to curry political favor. There are other prescedents: originally, "Indians" were not counted in the federal census and, until 1870, "other persons" counted as 3/5 of a person for representation.

Posted by: billolbrich | November 5, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats are out in 2010 and 2012. We The People will ensure that.

This year alone, Obama and his Witch House Speaker added 1.5 million guest workers to a suffering economy in which 6 million Americans are unemployed. Thanks Democrats.

The guest workers will soon become illegal aliens and then Obama will amensty them for votes.

Meanwhile, he'll count the existing illegals as citizens and redistrict accordingly.

The Democommies are traitorous SOBs.

Posted by: Patriot12 | November 5, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Everyone is going the wrong way. The Federalist Papers detailed the idea of an amendment to the Constitution, putting the bottom cap of representation at 1 seat per 250,000 population after the House passed 300 legislators (if my memory serves). California should have like 210 representatives, and there should be about 1,100 in the House altogether. Which is to say, we are all under-represented.

Why the limit of 435 then? Floor loading: the chamber in which the combined House and Senate can meet is literally not safe for holding more people.

We are at the mercy of an Architect. Just like the movie. Except without the 'harmony of mathematical precision.'

Posted by: vax_wiz | November 5, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: 12thgenamerican | November 5, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

These two individuals, of course, are well aware that they had ten years to bring this potential question up, including six years when their fellow xenophobes controlled the House, the Senate, the White House, and the mass media. They have less than absolutely nothing to complain of.

Oh, let me remind people that Senator Vitter, that staunch supporter of "Traditional Marriage" and of ladies of the evening, is one of the 30 Republican senators who voted that it is wrong to hold companies responsible if some of their employees kidnap and gang-rape another employee on company time.

In fairness to Senator Bennett, he was one of the only male Republican senators who think that gang-rape is wrong.

Posted by: edallan | November 5, 2009 8:30 PM | Report abuse

The founding fathers provided that all residents be counted in the census. The founding fathers didn't provide that the residents of one State pay for the short-comings of other States. I am glad that illegals will be counted though, so that the Feds will provide that California will be able to pay me back for the extra 10% witholding it is borrowing from it's residents.

Posted by: rpatoh | November 5, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

the paranoia being spewed would be hilarious if it wasn't so sad.

Posted by: RedBirdie | November 5, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

What good is it to make an effort to determine the number of citizens in our country if you don't bother to count those who are legit????
Too much PC once again. Lot of good it does us!

Posted by: buzzsaw1 | November 5, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

ravitchn..."aliens, legal and illega (sic) will be counted in the census."

Your are a real idiot and must have some type of internet infection. Read the Constitution. It says the count is to be of those that are here on 01 April, not with regards to their status. Did your mama have any children who lived?

and illega, will be counted in the census. Another victory for Acorn and for the policy of the Democrats in giving out walk about money to minorities to get them to vote.

Posted by: ravitchn | November 5, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: mortified469 | November 5, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

>>Senator Vitter, that staunch supporter of "Traditional Marriage" one of the 30 Republican senators who voted that it is wrong to hold companies responsible if some of their employees kidnap and gang-rape another employee on company time.

Posted by: edallan | November 5, 2009 8:30 PM | Report abuse<<

While Democrats agree that regular old personal time rape, and child molestation should bring no negative repercussions on perpetrators. Democrats don't do women any favors by voting anti-business.

Posted by: rpatoh | November 5, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

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