The Washington Post reports that the Commerce Department inspector general revealed in a letter on Tuesday that top U.S. Census Bureau political appointees put “significant pressure” on staffers to produce a count on undocumented immigrants by this Friday, “even though staff there say the data isn’t ready,” the report said. Per one employee, what they were being told to do was “statistically indefensible,” the report continued.
But according to an NPR report on Wednesday, that effort appears to be over. “Senior career officials at the bureau instructed the internal team assigned to carry out Trump’s presidential memo to stand down and cease their work immediately on Tuesday night,” NPR said it had learned. No matter what happens, what is clear is that President-elect Joe Biden must accept no such findings if they do come when he takes office next week.
While the report said that Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson’s letter to Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham names Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholt as the political appointees demanding the count (who themselves are set to leave the agency within days), whistleblowers point to pressure from the top as well.
“Several whistleblowers at the bureau told Gustafson that Dillingham had categorized the report as the bureau’s ‘top priority,’ regardless of the data’s accuracy, the letter said, adding: ‘OIG is also aware that you inquired into a financial reward for speed on this directive,’” the Post continued. “Gustafson said Dillingham is obliged to respond to the letter and asked him to do so by Thursday, after which ‘OIG will evaluate whether to interview you under oath.’”
Per the report from NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang early Wednesday, the move halting a count “effectively ends the bureau’s participation in Trump’s bid to make an unprecedented change to who is counted in the 2020 census numbers that will be used to reallocate each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes for the next decade.” Advocates told the Post the last-ditch effort from political officials was “astounding, just astounding.”
“There’s a transition of the president in a little more than a week, and trying to rush out these numbers knowing they won’t be implemented in order to sow further division and disunity within the population is just astounding to me,” Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Thomas Saenz told the Post.
For a grossly unjust and unconstitutional act, this whole mess has stretched out far too long—and that’s been aided by the conservative Supreme Court, which last month dismissed the legal action against the Trump administration’s mission to erase undocumented immigrants from the count in order to affect apportionment of House seats, apparently claiming it’s too early to challenge the obviously unconstitutional policy he’s been trying to implement.
“The liberals dissent on all fronts AND say Trump’s policy is illegal,” legal observer Mark Joseph Stern said at the time.
“The Supreme Court majority’s dodge in the case keeps alive a far-right passion project to fundamentally change who gets representation in the United States,” Talking Points Memo said at the time. “Even if Trump does not succeed in implementing the policy due to logistical issues that have arisen, Friday’s decision sets the table for a future administration to try again during the next census.” President-elect Biden must take any and all steps to ensure that the census includes all people—including asking the Democratic Congress to redo it if necessary.
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