OPINION: A Rarely Discussed Consequence of Immigration Reform – Undocumenteds Increasing States’ Political Clout


In February, Jessica Bravo, an 18-year-old college student who was brought to the U.S. illegally by her parents when she was 3, went to see Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. He is the U.S. representative where Jessica lives. She wanted “her” congressman to support a path to legal residency for undocumented residents. He does not. Why should he be responsive to her concerns? She is in the country illegally and cannot vote.
Ironically, Rep. Rohrabacher could owe his position in Congress to Jessica and the 2.6 million undocumented residents of California. According to my calculations, California has two additional congressional representatives because the state’s undocumented residents were counted in the 2010 Census, giving California a powerful 53 votes, the largest of any state.
The undocumented residents of California are not alone in inadvertently helping their state obtain congressional seats. That’s because all residents nationwide are counted by the census whether they can vote or not. And interestingly, the Republican Party stands to gain the most in the future from not granting citizenship to the undocumented.
Our system gives the top five fastest growing states a shot at more congressional seats because of their burgeoning population of undocumented residents — who cannot vote. Four of these states are the Republican-leaning states of Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Democratic-leaning California is also in the top five. This means in 2020, Republicans could gain congressional representatives in these four red states, as well as Democrats in the blue state of California. Astonishingly, these states would gain congressional influence without having to represent the people who are giving them the added clout — the undocumented. My calculations show this is already happening in California, Texas and Florida.
Why should Latinos in Connecticut be concerned about our national congressional apportionment system? Why should anyone in Connecticut be concerned? Well, if states with higher population growth are awarded more U.S. representatives, then states with lower population growth will lose representatives. Connecticut currently has the seventh lowest population growth in the country. If this trend continues, it is likely that Connecticut will lose one seat in Congress in 2020, which may result in the state losing the political clout to protect defense industry jobs including submarines built in Groton, fighter engines built in East Hartford and helicopters built in Stratford.
There is a way to avoid this loss for Connecticut, which is if both national parties find some common ground on the guest worker issue. Democrats should agree to more guest workers but only if non-citizens are excluded from congressional apportionment. There is room for negotiating here because the 2012 Republican Platform states clearly, “… the apportionment of representatives among the states should be according to the number of citizens.”
On May 22, a Senate committee approved proposed legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented residents in the U.S. That legislation, however, must also gain support in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where the political stakes are much greater than in the Senate. It is political suicide for Republicans to turn millions of Democratic-leaning undocumented immigrants into citizen voters. Alternatively, providing guest worker status without citizenship harms Democrats.
Granting Jessica Bravo, and others like her, guest worker status but not counting them in congressional apportionment would be a prudent compromise and in Jessica’s best interest. Undocumented residents and their advocates should give serious, and unemotional, consideration to guest worker status combined with exclusion from apportionment. The undocumented would gain legal status without inadvertently giving more political power to those who do not represent their interests. Some states would lose congressional representatives in this scenario, which is itself is a strong tangible statement of political influence by the undocumented or future guest workers. Might Rep. Rohrabacher support amnesty if he were to lose his seat in Congress because California’s undocumented population is excluded from apportionment?
Connecticut would also most certainly benefit from this scenario. The state might even gain another U.S. representative in 2020. Otherwise, Connecticut’s low population growth will likely result in one fewer representative in Congress and relegate the state to the same level of political influence as Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah.
Orlando Rodriguez is a frequent contributor to CTLatinoNews.com. He has written about the link between the undocumented and congressional apportionment in his book Vote Thieves. His views do not reflect the views of his employer.
(Photo by cliff1066 via Flickr)