Oversight Committee Held Emergency Hearing on Trump Administration’s Unconstitutional Politicization of 2020 Census
Washington, D.C. (July 29, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held an emergency hearing on the Trump Administration’s latest attempt to ban undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census count for apportionment purposes.
In the first panel, the Committee heard testimony from four former Census Bureau Directors: Kenneth Prewitt (1998-2001), Vincent Barabba (1973-1976 and 1979-1981), John Thompson (2013-2017), and Robert Groves (2009-2012). The Committee also heard from academic Dr. John Eastman.
In the second panel, the Committee heard testimony from current Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.
During the hearing, Members called on the Census Bureau to follow the Constitution, federal law, and 230 years of Census Bureau practice and ensure an accurate count of all people in the United States—regardless of immigration status.
Four Former Census Directors Testified that the President’s July 21 Memorandum is Unconstitutional
Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney asked the first panel:
“In your opinion, and based on your knowledge and experience, does the President’s July 21st memo seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment base appear to violate existing federal law and historically enduring views of the Constitution?”
All four former Census Directors responded, “Yes.”
The four former Census Directors also testified that:
- The Constitution requires the census to count every person living in the United States at the time of the census, including undocumented immigrants;
- Federal law requires the President to send Congress an apportionment count based on the census count of the total population of the U.S., including undocumented immigrants; and
- All previous censuses and apportionment counts in the history of the United States have included both citizens and noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants.
The witness requested by Republican Committee Members—Dr. John Eastman—disagreed.
Former Census Directors Call on Congress to Extend Statutory Deadlines for Four Months
The four former Census Directors testified that the coronavirus pandemic posed an unprecedented challenge to an accurate and complete census enumeration and called on Congress to extend statutory deadlines for the delivery of data products.
For example, former Director John Thompson stated:
“The career people who are experts at taking the census requested a four month extension of the deadlines that’s in their Title. They know what they are doing. They know what it’s going to take to get the census done. Not extending those deadlines is going to put tremendous pressure on the Census Bureau. It’s not clear what kind of quality counts they can produce if they don’t get the extension. So it could be a really big problem.”
Former Director Kenneth Prewitt characterized the coronavirus pandemic as a “huge challenge” and “unprecedented.” He expressed significant concerns about reports that the Trump Administration was seeking to rush the census count and retract its request for statutory extensions that were personally requested by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. He also said:
“I think we are at risk of giving to the country a set of numbers which will make our previous—what you said at the very beginning—you want to know how many coming to school, how many in the hospitals, what’s the traffic load. What about emergency preparation? All of those depend upon numbers. And I am very worried that we may not have those numbers at a level at which we are able to give them to the President at the end of this calendar year. So the extra four months is really important.”
Pressed by Rep. Gomez, current Census Director Dillingham refused to comment on why the Trump Administration was reportedly seeking to retract its request for statutory extensions. After demurring on the question, Director Dillingham stated, “Let me say I am not directly involved with the Hill negotiations on extending the schedule.”
Census Bureau Officials Were Not Consulted on the President’s Unlawful Memorandum
Current Census Director Steven Dillingham stated that neither he, nor any other Census Bureau employee, was consulted about the President’s July 21, 2020 memorandum, and that he learned about the memorandum from news reports.
CHAIRWOMAN MALONEY: Well, in your job executing the 2020 Census, did you—or anyone else, in your knowledge, from the Census Bureau—contribute to the President’s July 21st memo or provide input on it before it was released?
DIRECTOR DILLINGHAM: Madam Chairwoman, I certainly did not, and I’m not aware of others in the Census Bureau that did.
The Current Census Director Refused to Vouch for the Constitutionality of the Memo
Despite repeated questioning, current Census Director Dillingham refused to express whether he believed the President’s July 21, 2020 memorandum was constitutional.
REP. RASKIN: Is the word ‘person’ synonymous with the word ‘citizen’ in the Constitution?
DIRECTOR DILLINGHAM: It was a very dynamic display of democracy here today with the differing opinions, both as to history and policy and legal analysis. And I understand that several lawsuits have been filed that will be looking at these definitions, so I have to beg off from offering any legal analysis or opinion myself because my job is to administer the 2020 Census.
REP. RASKIN: Can we agree that if the President’s new interpretation is pasted onto the census, this will be a radical departure from everything that we’ve done for more than two centuries?
DIRECTOR DILLINGHAM: This presidential memorandum has nothing to do with our operation right now with the census. We’re counting everyone. It has to do with a tabulation that has been requested on apportionment.
REP. RASKIN: So, in other words, you’re just going to remain agnostic on the constitutional question?
DIRECTOR DILLINGHAM: I think I have a professional obligation. It’s the prudent thing to do.
The President’s Memorandum Will Chill Response Rates and Lead to an Inaccurate Count
The four former Census Directors expressed that they believe the President’s memorandum—and anti-immigrant statements about the apportionment count—will depress response rates in hard-to-count communities, including communities of color. For example, former Director John Thompson testified:
“I am very concerned that the release of this directive will increase the fear of many in the hard-to-count community that their data will not be safe. That is, there will be serious beliefs that their information will be given to immigration enforcement. The end result will be most likely be increased undercounts of these populations.”