Proposed census amendment creates odd bedfellows

Once again this year, a group of evangelical Latinos ostensibly working for immigration reform find themselves in lock-step with the anti-immigration movement.

Last week, several Republican congressmen—concerned about the growing influence of illegal immigrants—introduced a controversial amendment requiring a citizenship question on the U.S. Census. Already, Rev. Miguel Rivera, head of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) has expressed his support for it.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Two Republican senators, David Vitter of Louisiana and Bob Bennett of Utah, have offered an amendment to a spending bill that funds the Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau. The amendment would bar any funds from being used for the Census if it doesn’t ask about a person’s citizenship status…

Mr. Vitter said he wants to prevent other states’ numbers from being inflated by undocumented immigrants. “Certainly, Louisiana is directly impacted,” Mr. Vitter said in an interview. “We lost a seat in 2000.”…

In the House, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) has co-sponsored similar legislation.

Despite the pricey and log-jamming logistics (the U.S. Census Bureau says the amendment would require it to reprint some 425 million questionnaires and hamper its ability to complete the census on schedule), the Wall Street Journal reports that the amendment is “gaining traction in Congress.”

In a strange twist, it is also gaining traction with a group that says it is fighting for immigration reform. Though apparently aware that the amendment was introduced entirely to dilute Latino influence, CONLAMIC has expressed support for the idea:

Rev. Miguel Rivera, head of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, said the measure could pressure Democrats to overhaul immigration policy sooner. “In some ways, Sen. Vitter’s amendment is indirectly helping us achieve and accomplish our purpose,” because it could pressure Democrats to overhaul immigration policy, Mr. Rivera said.

CONLAMIC’s support for the right-wing amendment comes just as the Salt Lake City Tribune reports on a growing feud between CONLAMIC and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which recently launched an opposing campaign encouraging all Latinos to participate in the census.

Tensions intensified when CONLAMIC accused NALEO of spreading “lies” and “terrorizing” undocumented immigrants by suggesting that public services, including funding for public schools, will suffer if immigrants aren’t counted.

“It’s a lie that schools will lose money,” Rivera said. “… They’re financed by taxes paid by residents in the community,” including undocumented immigrant homeowners.

On Friday, NALEO issued a scathing condemnation of Vitter’s amendment, arguing that it invokes a time when the census refused to count slaves as more than 3/5 of a person. Wrote NALEO:

“By making intrusive inquiries into immigration status, the Vitter-Bennett
amendment would raise concerns among all residents – both native-born and
immigrant – about the confidentiality and privacy of information provided to
the Census Bureau.  This would deter participation in the Census count,
particularly among Latino residents, which we believe is the ultimate goal of
the amendment’s proponents.

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Katie Redding

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