Senator David Vitter has tried to attach an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriation for FY2010 to clarify that the Census should restrict its counts to people in the US legally. The Hill reports that Vitter accuses Harry Reid of attempting to block a vote on the amendment, which might have serious consequences for California and other states with large populations of illegal aliens. Vitter claims that California got as many as five extra Congressional districts from the 2000 Census after their failure to determine status:

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who is sponsoring an amendment to an appropriations bill that would require illegal immigrants list their status on next year’s Census, said late Wednesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants them counted amongst the general population instead.

The senator claimed that Reid wants illegals to be counted in the 2010 Census so that left-leaning states with high illegal immigrant populations could increase the size of their congressional delegations. The Census is a major factor in determining the each state’s share of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Harry Reid and the Democratic side…wants illegals counted in the Census, wants illegals in the reapportionment of the House,” Vitter said on a conservative talk radio show late yesterday.

Vitter, who is co-sponsoring the measure with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), claimed that illegals counted in the 2000 Census allowed California to maintain up to five additional seats in Congress they should not have.

Each seat represents 690,000 American residents at the moment, although in 2000 it would have been closer to 640,000, as population grew about 8% since the last census.  Would California’s illegals have amounted to 3.2 million?  That would be the upper reaches of estimates for illegal immigrants in the Golden State, but probably not outside the realm of possibility.  If they all got counted, it could have skewed the allocation of seats in the House as much as Vitter claims.

Critics will say that the Census is not an enforcement agency for immigration, and they’d be correct.  However, no one says that the Census Bureau has to act as an enforcement agency, either.  They do not need to call the cops if they discover that residents have no legal status to remain in the country.  They do need, however, to document it, for a couple of reasons.  The lesser reason is that it will give us some real data on which to base immigration enforcement and/or reform legislation in the near future — Barack Obama says it’s one of his key priorities — instead of relying on guesswork from contradictory resources on the subject.

More importantly, though, is the core purpose of the Census itself.  The Constitution requires the Census to properly calculate the legal population in order to apportion representation in the House for the states.  Not only does counting illegal immigrants  have no legitimacy for that purpose, it penalizes those states who act to enforce American law and reward those that act as “sanctuaries” in defiance of the law and national security.

Below, Vitter makes his argument on the Senate floor.  This amendment needs a vote so we can see how our Senators support and defend the Constitution.

Update: Jazz Shaw notes that millions of the forms have already been printed and would have to be replaced if Vitter’s amendment passes:

However, there is one significant problem with Vitter’s move which Ed doesn’t touch on in his article. We’ve already printed tens or hundreds of millions of the forms, with roughly 15 million more currently being printed every day. We’re fast approaching the time when they will all have to be correlated and mailed out. Starting over now would not only throw off the timing, but would cost a lot of money.

So if we’re to object to Vitter’s amendment on any grounds at all, it would be, “Good idea, but how did you not manage to think of this last year?” Surely he is aware of this, and it just adds a bit of a stench to the proceedings as if he’s just trying to shut the census process down at this point, which is simply out of the question. It’s a valid point he raises, however, and we should definitely address this before the 2020 head count.

Jazz’ point is also well taken, but what would be the actual cost?  Unless we’re printing on parchment, I doubt that the cost to stop and reprint would amount to more than $100 million.  In fact, as Senator Bennett points out, all that really needs to happen is to print an additional sheet for the new question and include in in the packets, which would result in much lower extra costs.

In the end, we are going to use the data to reapportion state representation in the House of Representatives.  That’s a once-a-decade task, one that greatly impacts the kind of policies this nation will adopt, and getting it right would be well worth the additional cost.  We can certainly pay for it by cutting out some or all of the earmarks in the upcoming Defense appropriation, or even a few in this appropriation.

Update II: My friend Michael Stickings at the liberal blog The Reaction also wonders why the Census doesn’t already ask this question, which he sees as entirely legitimate for its constitutional purpose.