Published April 06, 2009
Some lawmakers are calling anew for the U.S. to relax its immigration laws -- not to provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants, but to ensure statistical accuracy.
The calls come as the Census Bureau prepares to kick off the 2010 Census. Critics argue that unless the government is willing to relax immigration laws, millions of people -- afraid to their share their personal information -- will be left out of the count.
U.S. Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., who chairs a House oversight subcommittee on the Census, said he plans to ask the Obama administration to suspend immigration raids over the next year.
He wants the raids put on hold so illegal immigrants don't worry that sharing accurate information with Census workers could somehow expose them to punishment, even deportation.
"There are many people -- Hispanics, African-Americans, whites, Asians -- who have an irrational fear of government, who distrust government, who don't believe that if they give the federal government personal information, that that information is not going to be confidential," said Arturo Vargas, of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
The kind of move Clay is proposing has been done before -- in 2000, and even earlier.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, was working for the border patrol ahead of the 1990 Census when the orders came down to suspend some enforcement efforts.
"It distorts the count because people might be apprehensive about answering the door, or reporting accurately how many people are living in a house or residence or an apartment, or those kinds of things -- at least that was the rationale," Reyes explained.
But the call to pull back the reins on immigration enforcement is opposed by many of Clay's colleagues, including the ranking Republican on the House oversight committee.
"We're not talking about one day of not doing raids. We're talking about a period of time. Is that a week, a month or a whole year? We cannot suspend law enforcement," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
The Obama administration has sought a freeze on arrests of illegal immigrants, upending an enforcement policy that was in widespread use during the last years of the Bush administration.
There has only been one mass arrest of immigrants since Obama took office, which came as a shock to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who ordered a review of the incident. All but one of the illegal immigrants arrested in the February raid were released and given legal work permits.
Opponents of the move to relax immigration laws say that given the national security threats facing the nation, asking law enforcement officers not to do their jobs is not an option.
Republicans estimate the government will spend tens of millions of dollars this year targeting immigrant communities with the message that anything they share with the Census Bureau will not be used against them.
FOX News' Shannon Bream contributed to this report.