Census Amendment Stalls Appropriations Bill, LSC Funding
Civil rights groups are urging the Senate to reject a controversial amendment to the FY 2010 Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill (H.R. 2847) currently working its way through Congress. Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Robert Bennett (R-UT) have proposed the amendment, which is designed to cut off funding to the Census Bureau unless the 2010 Census survey includes a question regarding citizenship and immigration status. The amendment flap has delayed passage of the CJS legislation, which would, in part, increase funding and restore speech rights to Legal Services Corporation (LSC) grantees.
According to Sen. Vitter, "If the current census plan goes ahead, the inclusion of non-citizens toward apportionment will artificially increase the population count in certain states, and that will likely result in the loss of congressional seats for nine other states, including Louisiana."
Many civil rights groups argue that this additional question about citizenship will discourage census participation and in turn, undermine accuracy. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), "The question would inflame concerns within both native-born and immigrant communities about the confidentiality and privacy of information provided to the government and deter many people from filling out their census form."
On Oct. 20, a broad coalition of civil rights and advocacy organizations held a press conference on Capitol Hill to urge the Senate to vote against the amendment. Some of the groups involved include LCCR, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), and the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC). Many of the groups released statements denouncing Vitter and Bennett's effort. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of LCCR, stated, "The 14th Amendment clearly requires a count of every resident for apportionment of U.S. House seats, yet the Vitter amendment echoes a shameful period when the census counted most African Americans as three-fifths of a person. The ideals that our country was founded on, and the sacrifice and struggle of generations of Americans to realize them, deserve better than this."
In addition, many House leaders and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus condemned the amendment. They, too, held a press conference, during which House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the census changes are "something that neither the Census Bureau or the country can afford."
The 2010 census is scheduled to begin on April 1, 2010, and most of the materials have already been printed and finalized. Reportedly, the amendment's addition of a new question would require the Census Bureau to reprint materials, at a cost to American taxpayers of more than $7 billion.
In response, Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) introduced the "Every Person Counts Act" (H.R. 3855), which would restrict the Commerce Secretary from including any questions regarding citizenship or immigration status on the census.
In mid-October, The New York Times ran an editorial commenting that the changes proposed by Vitter and Bennett would be wasteful and counterproductive. "Adding a new question about citizenship would further ratchet up suspicions that the census is being used to target undocumented immigrants," said the editorial. "That would discourage participation not only among people who are here illegally but also their families and friends who may be citizens and legal residents. That leads to an inaccurate count. And since census numbers are also used to allocate federal aid, undercounting minorities shortchanges the cities and states where they live."
When the full Senate began consideration of the CJS bill in early October, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) scheduled a cloture vote, but Senate Republicans blocked the effort to cut off debate. Reid plans to hold another cloture vote soon.
The NALEO Educational Fund issued a press statement stating, "We urge the Senate to vote in favor of cloture, which would lay the foundation for halting the Vitter-Bennett amendment. If the cloture vote is not successful, we urge every Senator to oppose this unconstitutional and costly measure if it comes to the Senate floor."
In addition to its civil rights and logistical implications, the Vitter-Bennett amendment is stalling an appropriations bill that would overturn onerous restrictions on legal aid nonprofits. The CJS legislation includes a provision that removes advocacy-related restrictions placed on the private and local funds of LSC-funded nonprofits. Currently, these legal aid groups are barred from using their non-federal funds to engage in lobbying, initiate class-action litigation, or participate in agency rulemakings. These restrictions even apply to funds that come from private donors.
For more information on the LSC provision, see the July 29 issue of The Watcher.