President Trump has demanded since summer that the Census Bureau produce a state-by-state tally of immigrants who are in the country illegally, numbers long sought by Republicans who want to base political maps on population figures that do not include undocumented immigrants. On Tuesday, a federal inspector general questioned an order to deliver the estimates before Mr. Trump leaves office, after whistle-blowers warned that the rush would imperil their accuracy.
The Commerce Department inspector general, Peggy E. Gustafson, said in a letter that two White House political appointees were the “driving forces” behind the order, which required census experts to deliver counts of unauthorized immigrants by Friday, five days before Inauguration Day.
Her letter states that the Census Bureau director appointed by Mr. Trump, Steven Dillingham, had designated the estimates a top priority for the bureau’s data experts, even though completion of the 2020 census itself has fallen months behind schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic. The letter said Mr. Dillingham had discussed offering cash bonuses for producing the estimates quickly.
Mr. Dillingham backed off his order this week, according to bureau employees who refused to be named for fear of retaliation. Some of them said career employees planned to refuse to deliver substandard estimates, which would have led to an unprecedented standoff between the agency’s political leaders and its traditionally nonpartisan staff.
“It was just ‘Give us what you’ve got,’” one bureau employee said, adding that the estimates “were just not ready for prime time.”
The Census Bureau has been stewing in controversy, largely over the question of counting unauthorized immigrants, virtually since Mr. Trump took office. A battle over the Trump administration’s order to ask census respondents whether they were American citizens went to the Supreme Court before the justices barred the question in 2019, saying officials’ justification for the question was “contrived.”
The administration offered a new rationale in July, saying it wanted a count of unauthorized noncitizens so states could deduct them from overall 2020 census results, which count everyone living in the country regardless of citizenship. Doing so would produce a more rural, Republican-leaning population base when political maps are redrawn later this year based on new census figures.
Republican legislators in some states, including Texas and Missouri, are pressing for citizen-only population counts for redistricting. All states currently draw maps using total population counts, or something very close to them, and the legality of relying on citizen-only population totals is unclear.