California, like other states, has been preparing for months to count everybody for the 2010 census. That count of the "whole number of persons in each State," required by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years, determines each state's representation in Congress. It also determines allocations of federal funds for schools, hospitals, roads and other programs.
The stakes are particularly high for California, which has been hit hard by foreclosures and job losses. Gov. Schwarzenegger worries that the state may lose a congressional seat after the count. That would be a first in California's 159-year history.
So when symbolic gestures come along that could derail a count, Californians should be wary -- and redouble efforts to get a full, accurate count.
At one extreme is the Louisiana senator who proposed to cut off all funding unless a question on citizenship is added. The senator believes that noncitizens should not be included in the census for the purposes of determining representation in Congress. But a census question can't change that. The U.S. Constitution is clear: "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State." There's no mention of citizenship. That's the way it has been done since the 1790 census.
Constitutional scholars across the spectrum agree that if you want to exclude noncitizens for the purposes of reapportionment, you must amend the Constitution. The attempt to add a citizenship question to the 10-question census form is unnecessary. Fortunately, the Senate defeated it.
At the other extreme is the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, which is telling people to boycott the census. They believe it asks people "to step out of the shadows, be counted for political and economic purposes which they do not benefit from at all -- and then to return to the shadows of discrimination and racial intolerance." They want Congress to first pass comprehensive immigration reform to create a path to citizenship.
Both of these extremes are counterproductive. This nation needs to have a debate on immigration policy and resolve issues long left untouched. But undermining the census is the wrong way to push that debate forward.
For California to get its fair share of political representation and national revenues, Californians must unite to ensure that every resident is counted.