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Illegal Immigrant Census Count Stirs Debate

Marco Rubio, a candidate for the GOP Florida Senate nomination, has come out against counting illegal immigrants in the U.S. census for the purpose of apportioning congressional seats -- widening the divide between himself and his more moderate opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist. His position also demonstrates the complex and controversial nature of counting residents of a large and diverse country.

Rubio, a former Florida House speaker initially said the census should have an "accurate count" of all residents in order to know how "bad of an immigration problem we have," the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports. The 10-question census, however, does not ask about a person's citizenship status.

A spokesman for his Senate campaign later told the Herald-Tribune that Rubio does "not support a congressional reapportionment process that counts illegal immigrant populations when allocating seats." He added Rubio's position "stems from a concern about rightful representation in Congress and ensuring that every voter has an equal voice."

The census will have an enormous impact on communities, influencing not only the number of congressional representatives they get, but also the amount of federal dollars they receive for public works projects like roads and schools. The census counts everyone who lives in the country, legally or otherwise.

As the state with the third-largest population of illegal immigrants, their inclusion in the census could significantly benefit Florida, the Herald-Times reports. Crist, as well as Republicans in the Florida legislature are making an effort to have every resident counted, according to the newspaper.

"The people of Florida represent a rich legacy of diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences, and want to be represented accordingly," Crist reportedly said in Miami on Tuesday. "Florida families should participate in the 2010 census to ensure our state receives the funding necessary to meet the needs of our citizens."

Crist said today on the CBS "Early Show" that he takes a "pragmatic, common sense approach to government."

The American people "don't want bickering and some ideologue on one end or another to sort of be a standard bearer," he said.

Regardless of what politicians may think about it, census workers will likely be incapable of counting every resident because of fears and misconceptions about the census in minority communities, with legal residents or otherwise. Census officials are hitting the streets to allay those fears. U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves recently traveled to Laredo, Texas to tell residents their census data would be kept confidential and out of the hands of other government agencies. Texas could pick up as many as four congressional seats if every household were properly counted, the Associated Press reports.

Even as the controversial immigration debate boils over to this year's census, one congressman said today that 2010 will be the year for comprehensive immigration reform.

"Democrats, already on board the reform bandwagon, are even seeing some conservatives rally for... reform measures," Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) wrote with actress Sonia Manzano (best known as "Maria" on "Sesame Street") in the newspaper Roll Call. "The economic case is clear. Immigrants who become citizens consistently pursue higher-paying jobs and higher education, spend more and provide higher tax revenue. Just imagine what 12 million newly documented Americans could do for the economy."

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