Lauren Camera, U.S. News, August 6, 2019
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.