The Census Takers: A Government Against the People

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By John W. Whitehead

“The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it’s so rare.”
— Senator Daniel P. Moynihan

In Virginia, a male Census Bureau worker, in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, reportedly forced his way into a home after being informed by a 19-year-old boy that his mother was asleep and unavailable to answer his questions at that time. Having gained entry to the house, the Census Bureau worker then began to vigorously question the boy, who is half Chinese, about his ethnic heritage, remarking that the son looked Hispanic or Latino.

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The worker repeatedly asked whether any persons of Hispanic, Latino or Mexican descent lived in the house. Despite being informed that only two persons lived in the house, neither of whom were Hispanic or Latino, the Census Bureau worker continued to question the young man concerning the presence of any Hispanic or Latino persons in the house. This included inquiries as to the presence of any Latino, Hispanic or Mexican babies in the house over the age of one.

This incident is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Published and privately reported accounts of similar encounters between American citizens and government enumerators suggest that some Census workers are adopting an aggressive and harassing modus operandi in an attempt to obtain information that goes beyond the head count authorized by the Constitution. For example, a New Jersey resident recently sounded off on Twitter after a Census worker actually rifled through his mail to determine the number of individuals living at his home.

Unfortunately, with more than 600,000 temporary Census workers presently stalking the country, the potential for abuse and impersonation is high—and being acted on. For example, a census worker in Indiana was recently brought up on burglary and rape charges after breaking into a home he had earlier canvassed and attacking two women, one of whom is handicapped, while they slept. In Houston, one man was killed and his family members beaten after someone pretending to be a Census worker gained entry to his home.

In Atlanta, a Census worker was arrested on drug charges after a search of the worker’s vehicle turned up 151 unmarked pills, marijuana, and devices used in the sale and distribution of drugs. In Pittsburgh, a woman reported her wallet missing from her bag after a Census worker entered her home to obtain answers for the survey. The wallet later turned up in the census worker’s car. In Fairbanks, Alaska, the Census Bureau hired a man who had been convicted of burglary and second-degree theft. Having changed his name since his prior convictions, the man was able to get past the background check (the fingerprint results didn’t come in until after he was hired). After being hired, the man reportedly killed his mother.

You might be tempted to think this was a joke, but the punch line is no laughing matter—it’s the American people who are being played for fools. No wonder 80% of Americans don’t trust their government. How could you trust a government that would foist such incompetent and, in some cases, dangerous emissaries on an unsuspecting populace?

Clearly, not all Census Bureau workers are rapists, thieves and thugs. However, incidents such as these not only contribute to a heightened distrust of Census workers but also render the Census process and its results suspect and reinforce the impression that our government doesn’t care about our safety or our rights.

What conclusions should we draw from all of this?

First, given the wealth of resources at the government’s disposal, there is no excuse for the Census Bureau’s paltry and ineffective background checks. Although applicants are subjected to name-based criminal background checks, the Bureau doesn’t actually run a fingerprint check until after the person is hired. What this means is that individuals whose names aren’t in the FBI database but who have criminal records are being hired and sent out into the field. The Governmental Accountability Office estimates that about 35,000, or one fifth of the total number of hired Census Bureau workers were hired without a proper fingerprint check because the fingerprints supplied could not be processed. Additionally, 1,800 temporary workers had their fingerprint checks come back with a criminal record after they had already been hired. In light of this, I would advise anyone who has a Census worker come to their home to be extremely cautious when answering the door. Don’t answer any questions until you have been shown adequate identification and don’t let the person into your home. If a Census worker acts suspicious or becomes overly aggressive, call 911.

Second, anyone hired by the government and unleashed on the American people should be thoroughly trained, not only on their assigned task but on the Constitution—especially the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of privacy and prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure. Unfortunately, while each Census enumerator applicant is required to pass an application test prior to being hired, not a single question on the sample test for applicants asks about civics, the Constitution, American history, or even the purpose of the 2010 Census.

Third, taxpayers are being saddled with a whopping $14.7 billion bill, which is supposed to pay for 10 years’ worth of Census-counting, 500 field offices and a peak staff of 1.4 million workers. But that’s not all. We’re also paying for a $133 million television, radio, print, outdoor and Internet advertising propaganda campaign that includes prime-time spots during the Super Bowl XLIV and the 2010 Winter Olympics, as well as a national road tour with 13 vehicles traveling to key events across the country, such as NASCAR races. And then there’s the cost of the in-person Census visits, estimated at $80-90 million for every 1% of households that don’t mail in their responses. As of April 27, 2010, 28% of households had not responded, which translates to a follow-up cost of roughly $2.5 billion.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to calculate the amount of money being siphoned off the hard-working taxpayer through graft and corruption. Yet the following web account is telling from an anonymous census worker who recounts how enumerators were encouraged to be less efficient in going door-to-door: “In an average suburban neighborhood where the houses are somewhat close to each other, it was no problem to do about 35 to 40 addresses per hour once you learned how to quickly enter data into the computer. The census said that I should be doing about 12 to 15 per hour. My direct bosses told me that I should NOT be doing 35 to 40, because it was making them and other people look bad. So instead of walking at a snail’s pace, I just did my 35 to 40/hour and doubled my time when I submitted my hours. Again, sorry for the tax dollar grab, but I was told not to be so darned efficient or else I’d be cut!”

If political commentators really want to know what’s fueling the anti-incumbency mood in the country right now, they have to look no further than the 2010 Census, the latest in the government’s long train of abuses and usurpations against the American people. This isn’t a government by the people, for the people and of the people—it’s a government that is poorly run, criminally wasteful and which doesn’t give a damn about the people. In other words, it’s a government against the people.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book The Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks) is now available in bookstores and online. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org


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