Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cao and the Vitter Census Proposal

One of the major reasons why I like Anh "Joseph" Cao is because of his relatively progressive stance on issues that focus on immigrant communities. Hence, I was pleased that Cao came out against the Vitter proposal to modify the census to ask a question regarding citizenship status. This aligns Cao with Mary Landrieu, and puts Cao at odds with every other member of the Louisiana Congressional delegation, including Democrat Charlie Melancon. Here's how the Times-Picayune reported Cao's position:

Princella Smith, Cao's spokeswoman, said he is "emphatically against noncitizens being used in counting population numbers."

"However, as an immigrant, Congressman Cao understands that it is a priority that minorities and non-English speaking citizens participate in the census," Smith said. "He wants to work towards a solution, but he does not want to get into the practice of signing a letter to an isolated senator in the delegation. He'd rather pick up the phone."
I have to admit that Smith's first statement is a bit odd. I find it nonsensical that Cao would oppose counting noncitizens in population tallies and yet still want them to participate in the census. Isn't the point of the census precisely to come up with a population tally? Maybe Cao is trying to have his cake and eat it, too; but what is clear is that he won't support Vitter's proposal. He can come up with any spin he wants that might try to endear him to the xenophobes that I think motivates Vitter's intentions with this proposal in the first place; but, unlike Vitter, his "spin" is to soften perception of his clear opposition to the proposal, not to demagogue his support of it, which is what Melancon is doing. And I'm glad for that. I think Cao knows the significance to local communities and to democracy itself in counting noncitizen residents in the census; and I think Cao knows the xenophobia that undergirds this proposal and which Vitter and others are shrouding in the language of defending Louisiana's interests. Cao simply will have no part in sugarcoating xenophobia in this way. Good for him. Good for us. Good for democracy.


Eric said...

"I find it nonsensical that Cao would oppose counting noncitizens in population tallies and yet still want them to participate in the census."

Makes perfect sense to me. We'd like to know how many non-citizens are in the population, but don't want non-citizens to be included in the set of numbers that determine how many representatives a state gets. I know you disagree with that viewpoint, but it seems clear to me that this is the sentiment Cao is conveying, and it would be consistant w/ the conservative viewpoint on this issue.

Huck said...

But, then, why, Eric, is Cao opposing the Vitter proposal? The way Vitter explains his proposal is exactly as you describe it. Vitter wants the question added to the Census not supposedly to suppress noncitizen residents in the count, but simply to have a basis upon which to disaggregate population statistics by citizenship status for determining congressional apportionment. So what baffles me is that, by your reading, Cao essentially supports the Vitter proposal in principle all the while refusing to support the legislation to make it so in practice. Is that the "conservative" position?

Eric said...

Can't say for sure, but I'd guess his problem is with the idiocy of expecting illegal immigrants to participate in the census if there is a question about the legality of their citizenship! I read this as Cao just saying, 'we need to find another way to do this, so I'm not going to endorse Vitter's bill'.

Huck said...

So, I'm still baffled, Eric. Isn't the only purpose of the census to "count population numbers"? Maybe I'm misreading Cao's spokesperson's second statement, but it seems to me that he wants immigrant populations, even those who may not be citizens, to be captured in some kind of census. Is Cao afraid that Vitter's proposal to include a citizenship questions will suppress the participation of minorities or non-English speaking citizens? That makes no sense to me. And isn't it true that it's the census figures, and only the census figures, that are used for apportioning congressional districts?

You suggest that Cao seems to be arguing that there needs to be another way of doing this. But what other way is there?

Don't get me wrong: I'm glad Cao opposes Vitter's proposal. It's just that I think Cao's opposition stems more out of a sympathy for immigrants (whether documented or not) and as a protest against the xenophobic demagoguery that I think really motivates Vitter's proposal.

But I just don't find Cao's double-talk here to make very much sense.