Politics

The Unspoken Reason California Politicians Want More Illegal Immigrants

How a larger noncitizen population boosts the power of the heavily Democratic state

California politicians offered many reasons last week for praising a new law making it a “sanctuary state.”

Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the bill, said that in “uncertain times for undocumented citizens and their families,” the new law provides a “measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day.”

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State Senate Pro Tempore Kevin de León said at a news conference in Los Angeles that it would stop President Donald Trump from using state and local law enforcement officers to “tear families apart, undermine our safety, and wreak havoc on our economy.”

Left unsaid in the pronouncements related to economic concerns, compassion for the children, and the desire to resist Trump was a powerful incentive for politicians in immigrant-heavy states like California — noncitizens literally increase their political influence at the expense of other states.

“I think it is a reason for politicians in certain parts of the country. It’s an unspoken reason, but I think it is part of their reason.”

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Each state gets seats in the House of Representatives based on its population. That decennial census counts the entire population, not just voters or even citizens. Noncitizens — even illegal immigrants — count toward the reapportionment of those 435 House districts.

According to analysis in 2013 by the Center for Immigration Studies, California would lose five House seats if the nation apportioned representatives based on eligible voters rather than the total population. The political and data site FiveThirtyEight pegged the number two years later at six.

“California has a lot of extra congressional seats that are only there because of noncitizens,” said Han von Spakovsky, manager of The Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said reapportionment surely is not the only motivation for pro-sanctuary politicians. But she added that it is hard to conclude it is not a factor.

“I think it is a reason for politicians in certain parts of the country,” she said. “It’s an unspoken reason, but I think it is part of their reason.”

The current system ensures that each district has roughly the same population, but the number of eligible voters can vary dramatically. FiveThirtyEight notes that 81 percent of the residents of Florida’s 11 Congressional District, a retirement haven that has relatively few noncitizens or children — are voting-age adults. By contrast, only 41 percent are in the Latino-dominated 34th District of California in downtown Los Angeles.

“It takes a lot more votes to get elected … There are what are called ‘rotten boroughs,'” Vaughan said.

Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said a higher census count also can mean more federal funding, in addition to greater political power.

“It absolutely does,” he said. “I agree with the premise that they do have a vested interest in protecting the illegal population in their area.”

The Supreme Court last year rejected a challenge to Texas’ use of the census to draw political boundaries within the state. The plaintiffs, who live in districts with fewer noncitizens, argued that the method dilutes their votes and violates the principle of one person, one vote.

But von Spakovsky noted that the high court merely ruled that Texas could use the total population count, not that it had to. And the court did not weigh in on how it might apply to apportionment of House districts among the states, only redistricting within them.

So theoretically, a plaintiff in a state that would gain congressional seats under a system that counts only voting-age citizens could mount a legal challenge.

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The legal issues aside, though, von Spakovsky said politics goes a long way in explaining why California politicians approach immigration in a way much of the country considers radical.

“Pure political power is one of the most important reasons folks on the political Left come down on this the way they do and why they are so interested in getting them citizenship,” he said. “They think they will get their votes.”

Added Vaughan: “A lot of the politics of immigration is motivated by a spoils mentality.”

Chmielenski said the reapportionment process creates an incentive for some California politicians that goes beyond a desire to boost the state’s influence or bring home more federal dollars. If the number of congressional seats were cut, it would cost some those representatives their jobs.

“It’s probably more of a personal motivation for members of the delegation than the Democratic Party in general,” he said.

(photo credit, homepage image: Immigration Rally …, CC BY 2.0, by Tom Pratt / The view from DoloresCC BY 2.0, by sagesolar; photo credit, article image: Immigrant.March.WDC…CC BY 2.0, by Elvert Barnes / View from Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, faded, CC BY 2.0, by BDS2006)

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