Immigration Costs State Clout

By Steven A. Camarota on November 16, 1998

The Detroit Free Press, November 16, 1998

Michigan U.S. Senator Abraham is probably best known known in Congress for his unflinching defense of high immigration. It may seem strange that he is most closely identified in Washington with resistance to any attempt to reduce legal or illegal immigration, and issue that, at first glance, seems to have little effect on Michigan, a low-immigration state.

But the policies Abraham is advocating could come at significant political cost to his Michigan.

At the Center for Immigration Studies, we have calculated how many seats have changed hands or will do so in the U.S. House because of recent immigration. Our findings indicate that when the numbers are in from the 2000 Census, immigration in the 1990s will have cost Michigan one seat in the U.S. House. Six other low-immigration states will lose one, too.

This will continue a trend begun in 1990, when Michigan and five other states, lost a seat because of immigration in the 1980s.

Because the influence of a state in Washington is largely determined by the size of its delegation, immigration effectively redistributes political power. Moreover, because votes in the Electoral College are based on the size of congressional delegations, immigration also reduces Michigan’s influence in presidential elections.

The reason for this redistribution is simple: the large number of immigrants now living in the country, roughly 27 million, coupled with the fact that 75 percent live in just six states.

Because House seats are apportioned to each state based on its population relative to the rest of the country, and the constitution requires all persons - citizens, legal immigrants and illegal aliens - be included in the apportionment calculations, mass immigration redistribute seats.

And, because existing family and cultural ties determine where immigrants settle, low-immigration states such as Michigan will continue to lose seats if there is no reduction in immigration.

Despite this situation, Abraham has worked hard to keep immigration as high as possible. In 1996, almost single-handedly, he defeated legislation to modestly reduce legal immigration. More recently, as chairman of the immigration subcommittee, he pushed through legislation to dramatically increase in the number of H1-B visas for temporary workers.

He also has pushed to restore an obscure provision of the immigration law that encourages illegal immigration by allowing illegal aliens to pursue legal status after paying a $1,000 fine. Also, at the behest of the business community, Abraham has blocked any attempt to hire more inspectors to investigate companies that employ illegals.

As a result, we are left with a situation in which roughly 300 agents attempt to track an estimated four million illegal aliens holding jobs.

The policies favored by Abraham not only reduce Michigan’s political influence, they also can be seen as distorting basic democratic principles. Mass immigration has the unavoidable effect of taking representatives and political clout away from states such as Michigan, composed largely of citizens, so that new districts, composed largely of non-citizen immigrants who cannot vote, in high-immigration states.

In the last election, for example, 182,000 votes were cast in the average Michigan congressional race compared to only 45,000 in the immigrant-heavy 33rd district of California, or 73,000 votes cast in the 25th district of Texas. In 1998, there were 17 districts in California and Texas where the total number of votes cast was less than half the number cast in the typical Michigan district.

As a practical matter, this situation gives significantly more political power to voting citizens living in districts with large numbers of non-citizens because it takes far fewer votes to elect a representative in such districts.

Such districts are likely to exist for the foreseeable future. Only one in three immigrants surveyed in 1997 who had entered the country in the 1970s or 1980s had become a citizen, even though almost all were eligible. Even with the recent increases in applications for citizenship, it will still be decades, if ever, before the majority of immigrants already here become citizens.

Most important, with 900,000 legal and 400,000 illegal immigrants allowed to enter the United States each year, there will always be a huge population of non-citizen immigrants getting new districts carved out for them every 10 years at the expense of states like Michigan.

Whether or not he acknowledges, it is a mathematical fact that the immigration policies of Senator Abraham reduce the political influence of Michigan. This does not mean we should stop admitting immigrants altogether. What it does mean is that a more moderate level of immigration, say 350,000 people a year, which is roughly the historical average, would make far more sense both for our country and for Michigan.