Posts exaggerate migrants' impact on US Census, elections

Social media posts claim Democrats are encouraging the entry of undocumented migrants so they are included in the US census, giving blue states more representation and power over the 2024 presidential election results. This is misleading; experts say it is unclear how newly arrived migrants will affect the apportionment of congressional seats and electoral votes, and that any such change would take effect after the next count in 2030.

"The latest evil plans of the Dems to steal ANOTHER election," says a March 17, 2024 Facebook post. "They are letting all the illegals in so that they will counted in the Census. That way they will increase the number of Congressmen for each State."

Similar claims circulated on TikTok, Instagram and X after an amendment aimed at halting the count of undocumented immigrants in the census failed in the US Senate. X owner Elon Musk has amplified the narrative.

"Since illegals are mostly in Democrat states, both the House and the Presidential vote are shifted ~5% to the left, which is enough to change the entire balance of power!" Musk said in a March 8 post with tens of thousands of interactions.

Some posts suggest undocumented immigrants already skew the allocation of congressional seats and electoral votes cast in presidential contests, both of which are based on state population.

<span>Screenshot of an X post taken March 20, 2024</span>
Screenshot of an X post taken March 20, 2024
<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post taken March 20, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken March 20, 2024

Immigration is a major issue of the 2024 presidential election, which is likely to pit President Joe Biden against Donald Trump in a rematch of the 2020 race. Each side has blamed the other for the failure to stem border crossings.

But claims that Democrats are encouraging illegal immigration to get a leg up in national elections are unfounded.

Newly arrived migrants cannot vote -- and becoming a citizen takes at least five years in most cases, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (archived here). Asylum seekers wait an average of 4.2 years to have their cases heard in court (archived here).

However, Teresa Sullivan (archived here), a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and co-chair of a National Academies report on the 2020 census (archived here), said non-citizens are indeed counted every 10 years, as they have been since 1790.

"Remember, back when the Constitution was passed, lots of people couldn't vote," Sullivan told AFP on March 19. "Women couldn't vote. Slaves couldn't vote, children couldn't vote -- and yet they were counted. So, it doesn't appear that, from the beginning, being able to vote was part of the calculus."

Where migrants reside

The posts make it seem as if all newly arrived migrants go to states that reliably vote Democratic in national elections. But Sullivan said determining where they actually end up is difficult.

"I would say, in general, they go where the jobs are," Sullivan said, pointing to states such as North Dakota, which is experiencing a shale oil boom.

"They often go to places where people speak their language ... but there's no monopoly by the blue states on having the undocumented."

A Pew Research Center study based on 2021 data estimated the largest number of undocumented workers lived in California, Texas, Florida and New York (archived here). Texas and Florida have voted Republican in recent national elections (archived here and here).

The 2020 census gave Texas two additional seats in the US House of Representatives. A few other red states -- including Florida, North Carolina and Montana -- also gained seatswhile California, New York and Illinois each lost one (archived here). The added seats provide an equal number of electoral votes that determine the presidential election.

In the past three years, several southern states have dispatched tens of thousands of migrants to northern cities. But Justin Levitt (archived here), a constitutional law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has testified in Congress on the census process, said there is no evidence Democrats are benefitting from the influx.

"Even as conspiracies go, this one's pretty dumb," Levitt said in a March 19, 2024 email.

"If this is about an effort to rig the census going forward, any change today won't have an impact before the election of 2032."

AFP has debunked other claims about the 2024 US election here.