New Jersey would lose one of its seats in the House of Representatives if estimated numbers of immigrants not legally in the United States are subtracted from the tally used for apportionment, according to a University of Virginia analysis.

The prospect underlies the stakes of a federal lawsuit filed in New York by 20 states, including New Jersey, that seeks to strike down the exclusion from the formula as unconstitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment says apportionment is based on the “whole number of persons” living in each state.

If the change happens, and depending how closely the Census Bureau estimates come to those produced last year by the Pew Research Center, New Jersey would be at risk of losing a House seat and electoral vote for the fourth time in five decades.

“Nobody wants that to happen. And so whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, whether you support undocumented immigration or not – and in New Jersey, we’re pretty fair-minded about this across the board – but this is a bipartisan concern,” said Rider University political scientist Micah Rasmussen. “New Jersey does not want to lose any more of its political power.”

The issue is separate from, though related to, the announcement that the Census Bureau will be stopping its count in September, a month earlier than had been planned.

The apportionment issue is that the Census Bureau is looking for ways to accurately estimate the number of undocumented immigrants in each state so that those totals can be excluded from the population counts used to determine how many House seats each state gets for the next decade.

Here’s how the two are related: Those totals might be subtracted from totals that already underestimate the population, particularly for hard-to-reach groups such as immigrants who aren’t legally in the country and therefore fearful of responding to the survey or a knock on their door.

“Really a dramatic departure like this in the 11th hour is not only bad policy but it would hurt New Jersey particularly hard, so that’s something we should all be interested in avoiding,” Rasumssen said.

There may be as many as 475,000 immigrants living in New Jersey who aren’t legal residents.

In a hearing last week, a U.S. District Court judge in New York put the case on fast track and asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to designate a three-judge panel to consider it.

The House is reapportioned every decade to redistribute the seats among the states, based on the results of the census. New Jersey peaked at 15 seats for the 1960s and 1970s, then lost seats after the counts in 1980, 1990 and 2010.

The University of Virginia Center for Politics projects that the apportionment of three seats would be different if undocumented immigrants are subtracted from the counts. Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio would gain, and California, New Jersey and Texas would lose.

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The Center for Immigration Studies found in a similar projection last year that New Jersey would not lose a seat but New York would.

Using the entire population, including all immigrants regardless of their legal status, Election Data Services projects that New Jersey’s 12th House seat would be the 429th seat given of the 435. Depending on the projection, the state is around 166,000 to 177,000 people above the threshold for losing a seat.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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