Trump claims no retreat on citizenship question on census
Trump had said last week that he was 'very seriously' considering an executive order to try to force the question.
Washington: President Donald Trump is arguing he didn't retreat when he abandoned his effort to insert a citizenship question into next year's census and insists his fallback will prove a more accurate option.
"Not only didn't I back down, I backed up because anybody else would have given this up a long time ago," Trump told reporters Friday, one day after directing federal agencies to try to compile the citizenship information using existing databases. Still, the decision was clearly a reversal.
The Supreme Court had blocked his effort by disputing his administration's rationale for demanding that census respondents declare whether or not they were citizens.
Trump had said last week that he was "very seriously" considering an executive order to try to force the question. But the government has begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it, and such a move would surely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.
The president said he would sign an executive order directing every federal department and agency to provide the Commerce Department with all records pertaining to the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country. "The printing is started, and we're already finding out who the citizens are and who they're not, and I think more accurately," Trump claimed on Friday.
Late Thursday, Justice Department lawyers sent a copy of the executive order to the judge presiding over a challenge to the citizenship question in Manhattan federal court, saying they will confer with lawyers for the plaintiffs to see how to proceed in the case.
Trump's order said the Supreme Court "has now made it impossible, as a practical matter, to include a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire."
"After examining every possible alternative, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Commerce have informed me that the logistics and timing for carrying out the census, combined with delays from continuing litigation, leave no practical mechanism for including the question on the 2020 decennial census," Trump said.
Trump's efforts to add the question on the decennial census had drawn fury and backlash from critics who complained that it would discourage participation, not only by people living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating would expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, and the lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case, celebrated Thursday's announcement by the president, saying: "Trump's attempt to weaponise the census ends not with a bang but a whimper."
Trump said his order would apply to every agency, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The Census Bureau already has access to Social Security, food stamp and federal prison records, all of which contain citizenship information.
Trump, citing Census Bureau projections, predicted that using previously available records, the administration could determine the citizenship of 90 percent of the population 'or more". "Ultimately this will allow us to have a more complete count of citizens than through asking the single question alone," he contended.