Believe it or not, the United State Census Bureau is excited about using non-citizens to collect 2020 data… and it’s using a hiring loophole to do it.
USA News reported:
The Census Bureau is pursuing a legal loophole that its officials believe would allow them to temporarily hire non-U.S. citizens as part of its efforts to reach populations that are difficult to count, including in non-English speaking and immigrant communities.
People employed by the Census Bureau, including those hired temporarily, are considered federal employees and are legally required to be U.S. citizens. Specifically, the annual Appropriations Act prohibits the use of appropriated funds to employ noncitizens within the U.S.
Some exceptions exist, however, that allow the agency to hire translators temporarily, as well as to hire people admitted to the U.S. for permanent residence who are seeking citizenship, to hire people admitted as refugees or granted asylum, and to hire people for up to 60 days on an emergency basis.
Temporarily employed translators fall under a so-called “excepted service provision,” which gives each agency wide latitude to set its own standards for hiring based on what specific job it’s trying to fill.
“There are flexibilities within the Appropriation Act that would permit, for example, based on language requirements, some exemptions,” says Tim Olson, associate director for field operations at the Census Bureau. “We are actively working through those flexibilities to see if they can be used in 2020. We are not there yet.”
Asked whether the bureau planned to employ people living in the country illegally, a spokesman said, “There is nowhere in our legal flexibilities that refers to people we could possibly hire as ‘illegal.'” When pressed as to whether it’s an option under the current law, the spokesman repeatedly demurred, saying that the term “noncitizen” encompasses “anyone who is not a U.S. citizen.”
Census officials subsequently denied that they have any plans to hire anyone who is in the country illegally.
“The Census Bureau only intends to temporarily hire permanent legal residents to act as translators,” said Michael Cook, a division chief in the agency’s public information office.
Given the heightened immigration enforcement landscape driven by President Donald Trump, who, among other things, has prioritized ICE raids, deportations and building a wall along the southern border, hiring noncitizens could lessen an undercount in communities that have been most affected by the administration’s policies and where residents might be less reluctant to fill out a government form. It also remains to be seen how Trump’s base would respond to the federal government potentially hiring noncitizens.
The move comes as many census experts have warned of a severe undercount among hard-to-reach populations – the result of a heightened immigration enforcement landscape and the administration of the census online for the first time.
“Our country is increasingly diverse, language wise, culture, race, ethnicity,” says Olson, who has worked on the last four decennial censuses. “This country is getting more and more diverse all the time. When we look at hard to count populations – the groups of people less likely to participate in the census – that is our target in terms of outreach.”
During the last decennial census, in 2010, the allowance in the law was more clearly spelled out and the bureau did have authority to hire noncitizens, though in very small numbers. Ultimately, he says, a fraction of the 500,000 people temporarily hired were not U.S. citizens.
“We always push [to target] the hard-to-count communities [with] intentional outreach because that’s the hardest area to get an accurate count,” Olson says. “That’s where our focus is.”
Ahead of its major hiring frenzy this month and into the fall, the bureau has received 546,000 applications. Out of that pool, 1 out of 5 applicants are bilingual. Of those who are bilingual, half speak Spanish and the other half speak one of more than 300 languages and dialects.
“That’s an amazing attribute of our current applicant pool,” Olson says. “As we continue going forward we will intentionally get the word out within hard-to-count communities.”
Leading up to the 2010 census, the bureau recruited 3.9 million job applicants, ultimately hiring about 500,000 people.
But today’s employment environment is much different, with fewer people looking for work: In the lead up to the 2010 census, the unemployment rate fluctuated between 9% and 10%. Compare that to today’s unemployment rate, which was 3.4% as of June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
By mid-February, the bureau is aiming for an applicant pool of 2.3 million. The 549,000 it currently has is more than double its projected goal of 205,000 at this point – a success Olson pins in part on a competitive wage rate of $13.50-$30 per hour.
“We are on a path to an applicant pool that will be reflective of the neighborhood we will be hiring from, and many of those neighborhoods are going to require language skills other than English,” he says.
This year, however, census officials have an even heavier lift than in 2010. Not only will the census be administered online for the first time ever – creating potential problems in areas of the country with limited access to the internet – but also the immigration landscape is vastly more politicized, and it’s widely anticipated that the threat of the citizenship question alone will drive down participation rates in communities that serve many Hispanic and immigrant families.
The last time the census was administered in 2010, 1 million children 4 years old and younger were missed – the most undercounted age group by nearly double – and it cost states roughly $500 million in federal funds. The next most undercounted age group was 5- to 9-year olds.
So far, Olson says he isn’t fazed.
“I’m really pleased with where we are at,” he says. “I’m confident that we will be successful.”