Saturday, March 20, 2010




Once again, the self-destructive cry is heard from some parts of California, just as it is every 10 years when the Census is about to begin: “Don’t count illegal immigrants.”

The argument for not counting illegals is simple, well expressed the other day by Ken Calvert, a Republican congressman from the Riverside County city of Corona. “The law is the law and illegal immigrants should not be counted…because they are not U.S. citizens or legal residents,” Calvert told a reporter.

The flaw in this argument is just as simple. It’s unconstitutional not to count illegals. The Constitution puts the Census mission simply: “counting the whole number of persons in each state.”

So unless illegal immigrants physically are the non-persons some activists would figuratively like to make of them, they have to be counted. It’s the law.

It’s also good for California. This state often complains legitimately that the federal government doesn’t pay enough for services provided to illegals, a gripe that Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have lately made a centerpiece of their campaigns for governor.

Those services include things like public schooling, emergency room care, imprisoning illegal immigrant criminals and a host of other items. It’s a common claim that illegals cost California taxpayers a net of as much as $7 billion per year. This, of course, disregards all taxes they pay, from sales and gasoline levies to local utility taxes and – in many cases – income tax.

The argument over whether illegal immigrants cost taxpayers more than they contribute is an old one and has never been authoritatively resolved, but there is no doubt they use public services. Likewise, there is no doubt that Californians have long paid more in federal taxes than they get back via federal spending on roads, water projects, welfare, defense contracts or anything else. The figure for 2008 was that California received just 79 cents back for every dollar paid in federal taxes.

The imbalance has been so bad that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a plea for equity a key part of his January budget message. The odds are poor that he will do any better at extracting federal dollars than predecessors like Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, George Deukmejian and Ronald Reagan, all of whom voiced similar complaints.

Which leads back to the Census. A strong showing in the count that begins next month will be the easiest way for California to get back more of the tax money it tosses into the national pot.

For the Census is not used merely to draw congressional districts and dole out Electoral College votes, the two functions it was nominally created for. Congress also uses the count to distribute more than $400 billion each year to state and local governments, plus Indian tribes.

Besides that, Census figures are used to locate pools of skilled workers, decide where schools and hospitals should go and allocate highway and Medicaid/Medi-Cal money, among other vital functions.

So the more people California has, the more money it will get. Also, the more people California has, the more seats it will get in Congress, thus increasing or decreasing the state’s national influence. It is no coincidence, for example, that California now has 53 House seats, the most ever for any state, and also has its first-ever House speaker, San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi.

Should Republicans win back control of Congress later this year, chances are the new speaker would not be from California, but the state’s big GOP delegation would assure plenty of committee chairmanships, just like the state now has under a Democratic majority.

And it turns out illegal immigrants are one major part of getting the money and influence California’s size and populace ought to produce. Don’t count the estimated 3 million to 4 million who are here, and California will lose seats in Congress and billions of dollars.

That’s why cooler heads than Calvert’s should prevail, and it appears they will. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials points out that the Census has always counted people who were not eligible to vote, from slaves (counted as partial people at the beginning) to children and women before they gained suffrage.

It’s rather ironic that some California Republicans in Congress argue that illegals should be counted for purposes of allocating money to states, but not for redistricting. Ironic because that reasoning could cost some of those who favor it their jobs, as they might be being tossed into districts with other incumbent representatives if the state lost some of its seats.

The bottom line is that the more people are counted in California, the better for the state in myriad ways. Which is why it’s a gross disservice for any California representative to encourage Census takers not to count illegals or suggest illegals work at avoiding the count.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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