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Battle Erupts Over '90 Census Count of Aliens

October 29, 1987|PAUL HOUSTON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A new "war between the states" has erupted in Congress over fears that counting illegal aliens in the 1990 census will give California, Texas and New York additional House seats at the expense of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Michigan, Alabama and North Carolina.

The projected "loser" states and their allies are lobbying the Reagan Administration and preparing legislation and lawsuits aimed at excluding illegal aliens from census data that will be used to reapportion 435 House seats for the 1992 elections.

"The basic rights of representation are violated when voters in states with a large number of illegal aliens have a greater voice in choosing representatives in Congress," Reps. William F. Goodling (R-Pa.) and Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.) said in a letter seeking co-sponsors for a bill that would bar counting illegals.

Strong resistance to the campaign is being mounted by congressmen from states that are likely to gain representation. Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton) and Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.) charged in interviews that racism is at work.

Dymally is chairman of both the House census and population subcommittee of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus. Garcia is former chairman of both the census panel and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

"I think the fears are unjustified and very divisive. I view this as another attempt to go after Hispanic residents," said Dymally, noting that census figures are used not only to apportion legislative seats but also to carve up federal funds for local government services.

The Census Bureau, which estimates that California and New York took House seats from Georgia and Indiana in 1982 because of large illegal-alien populations, suggested Wednesday that it would be impractical and threaten the accuracy of the 1990 census to try to drop illegals from the count.

The bureau successfully fought a suit by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) to bar the counting of illegal aliens in the 1980 decennial census. But the outcome was inconclusive because the suit was dismissed on technical grounds.

Now, FAIR--a nonprofit organization that opposed the 1986 law offering amnesty to many illegals--is actively supporting the efforts led by Reps. Goodling, Petri, Patrick L. Swindall (R-Ga.) and Thomas J. Ridge (R-Pa.).

Shouldn't Be Counted

"If an invading army were to come in, they would not be counted as members of the American polity. And we don't feel that illegal aliens, who have broken immigration laws, should be counted for purposes that would eventually redound to the benefit of one area of the country over another," said Richard Estrada, FAIR's research director.

Petri said that legislation will be introduced next week directing the secretary of commerce to "ensure that illegal aliens shall not be counted for apportionment purposes." Co-sponsors so far include Democrats from West Virginia and Pennsylvania and Republicans from Oregon, Kansas, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Swindall is recruiting colleagues to sign a letter demanding that the Census Bureau implement such a policy on its own.

With both initiatives facing an uphill fight, however, Pennsylvania's House delegation of 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans is preparing to press its case in court, Goodling said.

The Census Bureau estimates that 2 million illegal aliens were included in the 1980 national head count and that about 1 million more were missed.

The Library of Congress has projected that Pennsylvania and Connecticut would lose one seat each if similar numbers of illegals are counted in 1990. If more are counted, Michigan, North Carolina and Alabama also would risk losing single seats. On the other hand, California would gain three seats, while Texas and New York would pick up one apiece.

The projections are highly speculative, however, because the new immigration law is expected to provide amnesty to 2 million illegal aliens.

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