After whistleblower complaints, Census Bureau drops last-ditch effort to strip out non-citizens

Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham
(Image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said in a memo Wednesday that he is indefinitely halting a Trump administration effort to gather the citizenship status of everyone in the U.S., telling workers struggling to comply with a Friday deadline to "'stand down' and discontinue their data reviews."

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department's inspector general's office had reported that bureau workers were under significant pressure from two Trump political appointees, Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholt, to produce data on who is in the U.S. illegally. Any such data would be incomplete, misused, and detrimental to the Census Bureau's reputation, the inspector general said.

Dillingham's decision effectively ends, again, President Trump's unprecedented two-year effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census. A Trump administration lawyer said Monday that the apportionment data won't be processed until at least early March, weeks after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The census numbers are used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is divided up. A prominent Republican operative had advocated stripping out non-citizens to help Republicans and white Americans.

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"President Trump tried and failed throughout his entire presidency to weaponize the census for his attacks on immigrant communities," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "It appears he has failed yet again." Before Dillingham released his memo Wednesday, a coalition of civil rights groups had called on him to resign. His five-year term is not up until the end of 2021.

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