Friday, October 23, 2009

James Gill on the Vitter Census Proposal ... Again

Yes, James Gill of the Times-Picayune has yet another column defending the idea of having the Census ask a question to determine citizenship status. Gill once again argues that this idea is consistent with the democratic principles of governance because census counts determine the number of seats allocated per state to the US Federal House of Representatives.

And once again, I'll point out that representative democracy is not just about having elected representatives to the Federal Congress reflect the interests only of their citizen constituents, but rather the interests of all the people, citizens and non-citizens alike, who live in the community that this official represents.

Our Constitution does not apply only to citizens. Our Constitutions affords its protections to any person resident in this country. Undocumented migrants have the rights to due process, to fair recompense for their labor, to free expression of religion, etc., even if the authorities in their own country constrain such rights.

Let me give a rather far-fetched hypothetical case just to make the point. Let's say a city of 500,000 people in the U.S. is composed of 400,000 non-citizen residents and 100,000 citizen residents. And let's say that the reason for such a discrepancy is that most of these non-citizen residents are here legally on temporary work visas to work in the foreign-owned automobile manufacturing plants this city is known for. The roads, infrastructure, schools, etc., are all impacted by this non-resident population in ways that affect the citizen residents, too. But if census data were to deny this community sufficient federal resources to maintain such services because the number of citizen residents is relatively low, then the quality of the overall community suffers. If the elected Congressional representative of this community really cares about the well being of his community, he would want these non-citizen residents counted as part of his charge such that he could have access to resources that would help him best serve BOTH the citizen AS WELL AS the non-citizen residents.

In short, democracy is not something that serves the enfranchised few. In our history, we have already experimented with excluding or minimizing the value of residents identified as non-citizens. It hasn't worked out all that well and has even run afoul of the principles of our Constitution. Some might even argue that the impoverishment of the South relative to other parts of the country might be attributable to Southern states not having proper access to federal resources relative to its overall resident human population because a big chunk of that population was comprised of "non-citizen" slaves, even though these slaves taxed community resources and services as much as citizen residents. If we are not going to give the foreign student on a temporary student visa the right to have an electoral say over choosing the public officials who will dictate the quality of his life while he is in residence in the U.S., the least we can do is to make sure that he is counted in the population numbers that determine the number of elected officials and the amount of federal resources that such officials can claim to serve the communities in which these non-residents live and make their home, sometimes for very long periods of time. That is what I would call democratic government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." And let's remember that this concept has never been phrased as one that is "of the citizen, by the citizen, and for the citizen." Non-citizen residents are people, too. And thus they merit a government under whose jurisdiction they reside that, at the very least, recognizes their presence and acknowledges their value.

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