Illegal Immigrants Distort Congressional Representation and Federal Programs

Most Americans know that their representation in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on proportional representation as determined by the decennial Census. And, many Americans are aware that the Census takers try to count everybody residing in the country. But, most Americans do not make the connection that illegal immigrants and other foreigners who are not legal permanent residents are part of the calculation for the apportionment of Congressional representatives. If the population of illegal aliens and other long-term foreign residents were inconsequential, this would not be an important issue. However, with 18.5 million more persons counted in the 2000 Census than the number of U.S. citizens, this is a valid major concern.

Because illegal aliens should not even be in the country, and other nonimmigrants such as foreign students and guest workers are here only temporarily, it makes no sense to distribute Congressional seats as if these foreign nationals deserved representation the same as American citizens.

The U.S. population that logically should be enumerated includes U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (immigrants). As only the former may vote in federal elections, the apportionment of seats in Congress should be done on the basis of the number of citizens in each state. 1 Apportionment of federal funds should be based on the number of citizens and legal residents of each state.

Some federal funding programs provide compensation to the states based on mandated expenditures for foreign residents, i.e., emergency medical care, incarceration, English language learning. The number and identity of these non-citizen users of these services is appropriately collected by the service provider and should be provided to the federal government as a condition precedent to receiving any distribution of federal funds.

On the basis of the current Census questionnaire, however, there is no way to determine if a foreign resident is legally or illegally in the country. But the Census does ask whether persons are U.S. citizens. It could also ask persons who are not U.S. citizens if they are legal permanent residents ("green card" holders).

As a result of the current incoherent system of allocating seats based on all persons counted in the Census, some Member of Congress represent many fewer U.S. citizens and permanent residents than others. Similarly, some states that have large numbers of illegal aliens and other non-citizens gain the advantage of additional representation in Congress at the expense of states that have fewer illegal aliens and non-citizens, since the total number in the House of Representatives is currently fixed by law at 435 members.

Besides the distortions in apportionment of representation among the states and in the number of citizens represented by each representative, the Census also causes distortions when it is used to allocate federal public assistance funds among the states because nonimmigrants, including illegal aliens, are not entitled to public welfare.

If apportionment based on U.S. citizenship had been in force following the 2000 Census, the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives would have been as shown in the chart below, which also shows the actual apportionment and the difference (states not listed would have no change).

State Reallocation     Current     Change
California 47   53   -6
Florida 24   25   -1
Indiana 10   9   1
Kentucky 7   6   1
Michigan 16   15   1
Mississippi 5   4   1
New York 28   29   -1
Ohio 19   18   1
Oklahoma 6   5   1
Pennsylvania 20   19   1
South Carolina 7   6   1
Texas 31   32   -1
Wisconsin 9   8   1

As may be seen from the reallocation of seats based on the distribution of U.S. citizens, the states with the largest illegal and resident nonimmigrant populations currently gain influence in the law making process as a result of the current distribution of congressional seats. The perverse effect of this current apportionment process is that it encourages states to accommodate the presence of persons who constitute a major fiscal burden on their citizenry.

If the seats in the House of Representative were reapportioned based on the distribution of U.S. citizens, the big loser of seats would be California, losing 6 seats. Three other states with large immigrant populations both legal and illegal would also lose one seat each, i.e., Texas, New York and Florida. The winners in this reallocation of congressional representation would be the residents of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Those states each would gain one additional representative.


Rev. 3/07

End notes:

  1. Section 2 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.” Section 1 of the same Amendment provides, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” The order of these two Sections implies that the persons upon whom apportionment is to be made are persons born or naturalized in the United States.