Update: This story was updated to include a response from Census Director Dillingham.
The Census Bureau was told Tuesday evening to cease work on a directive from President Trump to provide the data that would allow the President exclude undocumented immigrants from congressional apportionment.
The news that the administration was pulling the plug on the project was first reported by NPR.
Already, the Trump apportionment policy was running into a fatal timing issue: due to routine snags in the census processing phase — coupled with the earlier disruptions to the count from the pandemic — the Census Bureau is not likely to produce the population counts used for apportionment until later this spring. Justice Department lawyers acknowledged that timing reality at court hearings in recent days in the litigation over how the administration has handled the census.
But now the administration is in full retreat from the project, after a Commerce Department inspector general letter Tuesday revealed that the political appointees in the Bureau were still seeking a “report” on undocumented and noncitizenship data.
In a response Wednesday to the inspector general letter, Dillingham said the data project was related to the 2019 executive order the President issued directing the collection of citizenship data. (That order was later referenced when Trump announced last year he was seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment).
Dillingham’s response confirmed that, after receiving the IG letter, he had instructed the bureau to “stand down” and “discontinue” their review of the data.
The letter from Inspector General Peggy Gustafson to Census Director Steve Dillingham called him out by name as one of the appointees who were pressuring Bureau experts to produce the data by end of this week. The letter suggested that the political appointees had been seeking the report even after it became clear that the timing issues would preclude the exclusion policy from being implemented.
Census Bureau whistleblowers had raised concerns to the inspector general about the quality of the immigration data they were being asked to assemble.
“One senior Bureau employee went as far to say that this work is statistically indefensible,” the letter from Gustafson said.
Since President Trump announced the plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count, it’s been obvious that the Census Bureau would face challenges in providing immigrant data that would meet its rigorous quality standards
Nevertheless, the Trump administration was relentless in trying to put the policy in effect before Trump left office. A plan to give the Census Bureau until April 2021, given the pandemic, to produce the apportionment counts was reversed after Trump announced the immigrant data policy.
The administration also faced several lawsuits challenging the legality and constitutionality of excluding undocumented immigrants from congressional apportionment. Several courts declared the plan illegal, and one also said it was unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court last month reversed those rulings because the conservative justices said that resolution of the legal questions should wait until after the bureau produced the data.