A controversial amendment that would require the Census Bureau to ask for the first time whether people are in the USA illegally is headed for a Senate vote Wednesday.
Proposed last week by Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana and Bob Bennett of Utah, the amendment would exclude illegal immigrants from the population count used to allocate congressional seats after the 2010 Census. It also would require the Census to ask people whether they are citizens.
"Illegal aliens should not be included for the purposes of determining representation in Congress, and that's the bottom line here," Vitter says. If enacted, the amendment to an appropriations bill would stop funding of the 2010 Census unless the changes are made.
The amendment comes less than six months before 2010 Census questionnaires are mailed to 135 million households. About 425 million forms have already been printed, according to the bureau. Some are in different languages; others are duplicates that will go to houses that do not respond to the first mailing.
The Census Bureau is launching an outreach campaign to persuade Americans that next year's national head count will be a simple, painless process.
The "Take 10" campaign promotes the idea that the Census form has only 10 questions and should take just 10 minutes to answer. Adding questions would require designing new forms. "It's operationally impossible," says Steve Jost, Census associate communications director. "The forms are printed, folded. We have bilingual forms. ... We're printing 1.5 million forms a day."
By law, the Census is taken April 1. State population counts must be submitted to the president the following Dec. 31 so that seats in the House of Representatives can be apportioned.
Since the first Census in 1790, the bureau has routinely asked in various surveys whether people are native-born or foreign-born, but it has never asked about legal status.
Immigrants often are the hardest to count because many mistrust government, especially if they are in the USA illegally. Crackdowns on illegal immigration at the border and at work sites have made outreach for next year's Census even more challenging.
Some Latino groups such as the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders are calling for immigrants to boycott the Census unless laws are changed to give those here illegally a chance to gain legal status.
"Already the public fears that the Census is too intrusive," says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which opposes both the amendment and the boycott.
"Asking about citizenship status "would raise more questions in the public mind about how confidential the Census is," Vargas says.