Federal judge orders Trump admin to respond to accusations census workers ordered to halt operations

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A federal judge ordered the Trump administration Wednesday to respond to accusations from census workers that they had been ordered to halt field operations.

The Trump administration has been pressing to end the census count on Sept. 30, a month earlier than originally planned. District Judge Lucy Koh last week issued a temporary injunction to suspend the Census Bureau’s plan to end the headcount early.

But U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said Monday the count of every U.S. resident will end Oct. 5, despite the judge’s ruling to allow it to continue through Oct. 30.

The announcement said that the ability to self-respond to the census and the door-knocking phase where census workers visit homes would be ending next week.

Three census workers emailed the court saying they’ve been told to wrap up their work but are concerned of an undercount if they do so. All expressed concerns that they’ve been instructed to shut down operations as quickly as possible, which they say could be a mistake for the Census’ goal of counting everyone.

Ross’ office must now respond to the Census workers’ concerns by 8 a.m. PT Wednesday.

Sparring over the census has been ongoing this year, as the Trump administration argued that if they don't receive census data by a proposed early deadline of Sept. 30, they would be unable to meet the statutory deadline of Dec. 31.

Trump's push to end the Census is opposite an earlier request approved by House Democrats that would allow an extension until April 2021 for the administration to report census results due to the coronavirus pandemic, which halted field efforts by the agency and stunted their ability to drum up responses from large swaths of the country.

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But Trump later decided he no longer wanted the extension and instead asked the courts to mandate the census expedite their results too.

An undercount, which the Census Bureau warns is possible if it is made to submit its counts a month early, would ultimately affect the number of congressional seats allotted to each state. Officials say it could potentially hit hardest low-income areas and minority communities who are least likely to respond to the census, as well as exclude immigrants from the population count.

The census count is also used to apportion $1.5 trillion of federal spending annually.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel in New York blocked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who runs the department that oversees the Census Bureau, from excluding illegal immigrants when turning over data to be used to calculate the number of House seats each state receives.

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Koh asked federal attorneys during Monday’s hearing to provide documents on how the decision to end the headcount on Oct. 5 was made.

Fox News' Vandana Rambaran and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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