At the Census Bureau, a Technical Memo Raises Alarms Over Immigration Politics

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WASHINGTON — A Census Bureau memorandum on creating a state-by-state estimate of people illegally in the country is raising new fears of a politicized census — this time involving the population totals that will be used to reapportion the House of Representatives next year.

The memo, issued Monday, orders an internal task force to explore statistical methods of compiling an accurate estimate of noncitizens. It says the aim is to carry out President Trump’s July mandate to exclude undocumented residents from population totals used to determine how many House seats each state is entitled to. The directive, which is being challenged in court, is widely seen as an effort to shift some House seats to Republicans during reapportionment next spring.

Some experts inside and outside the bureau see the memorandum as the precursor to an effort to manipulate population figures to give Republicans an even greater edge in reapportionment. In essence, they say, they fear that the methods the bureau is being asked to devise will create a road map for the Trump administration to tailor the numbers for maximum political benefit.

“If all that information were to go to the Department of Commerce or the White House, that would be highly irregular,” said John Thompson, a 31-year Census Bureau veteran who ran the agency from 2013 to 2017. “In previous censuses, even the managers running the census did not see the apportionment figures until the whole process had been finished.”

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