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WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats Thursday blocked a GOP attempt to require next year's census forms to ask people whether they are U.S. citizens.

The proposal by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter was aimed at excluding non-citizens from the population totals that are used to figure the number of congressional representatives for each state.

Critics said Vitter's plan would discourage immigrants from responding to the census and would be hugely expensive. They also said that it's long been settled law that the apportionment of congressional seats is determined by the number of people living in
each state, regardless of whether they are citizens. A separate survey already collects citizenship data.

Census data is also used to distribute billions of dollars in federal aid.

'The current plan is to reapportion House seats using that overall number, citizens and non-citizens,' Vitter said. 'I think that's wrong. I think that's contrary to the whole intent of the Constitution and the establishment of Congress as a democratic institution to represent citizens.'

If Vitter were successful -- and if non-citizens were excluded from the census count for congressional apportionment -- states with fewer immigrants would fare significantly better in the upcoming allocation of House seats.

States such as California and Texas would fare worse than they would under the current way of allocating seats, which under the
Constitution is based on the 'whole number of persons' residing in a state.

Louisiana stands to lose one of its seven House seats in the upcoming round of reapportionment. Vitter says that if non-citizens
were excluded, Louisiana and eight other states would keep or gain congressional seats that would go to California, Texas, Illinois
and New York. Vitter said the other eight states were: North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Michigan, Iowa and Indiana.

Vitter's amendment, however, would not have changed the way the congressional seats are allocated by counting citizens and
non-citizens alike.

Census Director Robert Groves opposes the proposal and recently told lawmakers that it would greatly delay the decennial count.

Critics also said Vitter's plan would discourage immigrants from responding to the census and would be hugely expensive.

The GOP proposal would have blocked Census Bureau funds if it doesn't add the citizenship question to the more than 600 million
forms. More than 400 million have already been printed.

'As we've said, the proposal is just not doable and we would have had to delay the census,' Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner said Thursday. 'The 2010 census remains on track and on schedule, and we're moving forward to ensure we have an accurate count in 2010.'

Critics also said that it's long been settled law that the apportionment of congressional seats is determined by the number of
people living in each state, whether or not they are citizens.

Vitter's home-state colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu, recently said in a letter to Vitter that it would take a constitutional
amendment to exclude immigrants from the count.

The Vitter plan fell after a 60-39 procedural vote made it ineligible for inclusion in a bill funding the census.


(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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