Judicial Watch sues for documents on census plan to hire foreign nationals

Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce for U.S. Census Bureau records concerning the agency’s hiring of non-U.S. citizens to help conduct the 2020 Census (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Commerce(No. 1:19-cv-03433)).

The lawsuit was filed after the Census Bureau delayed responding to a September 12, 2019, FOIA request for more than two months.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said they asked for public records and were given such an unbelievable run around, they had to sue the Department of Commerce in federal court.

"Generally speaking, federal law prohibits non-citizens from working for the federal government in this capacity. Government works, usually the law designates taxpayers, their money goes to hire Americans," said Fitton.

He said the Census Bureau seems to be nervous to disclose their documents about who they're hiring.

"People are concerned about the validity of it, whether it's being done properly and that's undermined when you have non-Americans do it, which is why you have this general law that makes it difficult to hire foreign nationals," said Fitton.

He said it will still be months before they hear anything back from the federal government.

Judicial Watch seeks:

Records about the temporary hiring of non-citizens to help conduct the 2020 decennial census. Records relating to efforts to ensure any such hires are permanent, legal U.S. residents. The request was prompted by a report titled “Census Bureau Seeks to Hire Non-U.S. Citizens Ahead of 2020,” published on August 6, 2019 by U.S. News & World Report. Federal law generally prohibits the government from hiring non-citizens, but according to the report, Census Bureau officials believe the law affords them “flexibilities”: 

There are [citizenship] 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 [emphasis added], 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.”

The Census Bureau twice asked Judicial Watch to clarify the request. When Judicial Watch did so in response to the first request, the Census Bureau sent a second, identical clarification request that even included the same typos as the first. After a telephone conference and at least two more rounds of discussions, the Census Bureau still has not indicated whether it will process the straightforward request.

“The bureaucratic runaround Judicial Watch received from the Census Bureau on its potentially illegal hiring of aliens to help conduct the census is remarkable—and not in a good way” said Fitton. “Judicial Watch simply wants the documents so the public can be reassured that the census is being run according to law.”

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