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Census Bureau director: ‘Stand down' on tracking immigrants

Michael Macagnone, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The Census Bureau has put the brakes on President Donald Trump’s effort to identify undocumented immigrants in census data, the agency said Wednesday.

The decision, first reported by NPR, came after a whistleblower report from the Commerce Department’s inspector general raised concerns about the agency’s rush to produce the results before the end of Trump’s term on Jan. 20.

In his response Wednesday to the federal watchdog, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said he asked staff to stop working on the “technical report” about immigrants in the country.

“Upon learning of these concerns, I followed best management practices and immediately informed the career Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer that those involved should ‘stand down’ and discontinue their data reviews,” Dillingham said in the letter.

Earlier in the day, multiple advocacy groups that partnered with the Census Bureau in last year’s count called on Dillingham to immediately resign over the reported rush.

“It is a betrayal of the Census Bureau’s mission for the director to direct the staff to do anything but complete its work on the 2020 census, including the apportionment counts which are already past the statutory deadline,” Arturo Vargas, NALEO Education Fund CEO, said Wednesday.


NALEO was joined by Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, three groups that the Census Bureau regarded as key partners in establishing trust in local communities.

Within the last two years, Trump took two executive steps to single out immigrants in the census after a failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the questionnaire: an executive order to compile detailed data on the citizen population of voting age nationwide, and a memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the process of divvying up House seats. Dillingham’s letter mentions the executive order, but not the memorandum.

Previously, agency officials said the information under the memorandum would be released after apportionment results. The Census Bureau already missed its Dec. 31 statutory deadline to produce apportionment results. On Monday, a Justice Department attorney told a federal judge that the agency could not finish the work before March 6. The agency has publicly acknowledged it found errors in about 1 million records, which could result in missing or double-counting tens of thousands of people.

In her memo Tuesday, Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson said Dillingham made efforts to produce a report estimating the immigrant population “a number one priority.” She said her investigation into whistleblower reports revealed Dillingham directed the work to be finished by Jan. 15.


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