There’s an old saying in politics: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”
In short, areas where voting turnout is low lose influence in government and the money and services that come with it.
But there’s something even more basic at stake when it comes to getting counted in the federal Census that’s conducted every 10 years. If you don’t get counted, this principle might read, then you simply won’t count – for anything.
That’s why a current effort by some Latino clergy to encourage a Census boycott by illegal immigrants makes little sense.
It’s not that these ministers and priests, members of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders, fear Census takers will report illegals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to their deportation. This has never happened, and the Barack Obama administration vows to keep that record intact.
Nope, the convoluted reasoning of these religious “leaders” holds that by becoming statistically invisible, the 11 million or so illegals residing in this country will be able to push Congress to move on immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for them. Huh? Becoming invisible will somehow give illegals more clout?
Are these people kidding?
No, they’re not kidding, and their effort could lead both illegal immigrants and the states where most of them reside – principally California – down an unprecedented primrose path to disaster.
It’s not just that California is so strapped it was forced to issue IOUs earlier this summer. It’s not just that the state budget crunch led to serious proposals to cut out all government-funded health care for illegal immigrants and their children. It’s not just that the fiscal crunch spurred calls to ban illegal immigrant children from public schools – even though the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly forbidden this.
All those areas and more would worsen if illegals refused to be counted, because federal funds (that means tax dollars from California, which already gets back far less than its citizens put into the U.S. Treasury) are allocated on the basis of population. Don’t get counted, and the flow of federal money that now funds most health care for poor children here will slow down.
Federal highway funds would also be reduced, along with the subsidies that now pay the bulk of the cost of buses and mass transit rail cars used by illegals and citizens alike. That would mean more potholes, less new pavement, fewer freeway widening projects and cancellation of many bus routes.
But not getting counted would also produce precisely the opposite effect the anti-Census Latino clergy hopes to achieve.
For political district lines are drawn on the basis of population. The more people in an area, the more assembly members, state senators and members of Congress an area will get.
Don’t get counted and places like East Los Angeles and the agricultural areas of the Central Valley and parts of San Francisco and its East Bay suburbs will get fewer districts. Fewer districts in those areas would mean fewer Latino faces in Congress and the Legislature, which in turn would mean fewer politicians pushing for the immigration reforms sought by the clergy group.
Because illegal immigrants in California were undercounted by an estimated 750,000 in the last Census, Latino areas are already under-represented. Make the undercount significantly worse and representation will be even lower.
There’s some anecdotal evidence the proposed boycott is gaining momentum. It doesn’t take much to persuade people already afraid of detection and deportation to keep their heads down.
The only good things that have happened on this question are that other Latinos are fighting to overcome the boycott call. “This would be a phenomenal stride backward in the strides we have made to make sure we are equal,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, who calls the boycott plan “wildly irresponsible.”
He and others point out that the idea of non-cooperation plays directly into the hands of anti-illegal immigrant groups who want the undocumented to enjoy no rights or public services. Outfits like the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies have long contended counting illegals skews the one-person, one-vote principle that controls the shaping of political districts. They argue it should be one-citizen, one-vote. In fact, that’s how elections are conducted, but citizenship and immigration status do not now control the preliminary political steps that come before the actual vote.
That’s why it takes far fewer actual votes to win a seat in Congress or the Legislature from predominantly Latino districts than in places like coastal Orange County, San Diego or San Francisco.
All of which means the clergy behind this proposed boycott is promoting one of the most self-destructive plans in American political history. One hopes their spiritual advice is more sound than their political acumen.