Trump gives up cen­sus fight

Ci­ti­zen­ship data search is new plan


WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day aban­doned his at­tempt to place a ques­tion about ci­ti­zen­ship on the 2020 cen­sus and in­structed the gov­ern­ment to com­pile ci­ti­zen­ship data in­stead from ex­ist­ing fed­eral records.

Trump an­nounced in the Rose Gar­den at the White House that he was giv­ing up on mod­i­fy­ing the cen­sus two weeks after the Supreme Court re­buked the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion over its ef­fort to do so. Last week, Trump had in­sisted that his ad­min­is­tra­tion “must” pur­sue that goal.

“We are not back­ing down on our ef­fort to de­ter­mine the ci­ti­zen­ship sta­tus of the United States pop­u­la­tion,” Trump said Thurs­day.

He said he would be sign­ing an ex­ec­u­tive or

der 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, 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% 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 said.

Trump said his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents were “try­ing to erase the very ex­is­tence of a very im­por­tant word and a very im­por­tant thing, ci­ti­zen­ship.”

“The only peo­ple who are not proud to be ci­ti­zens are the ones who are fight­ing us all the way about the word ‘cit­i­zen,’” he added.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has ar­gued that in­clud­ing the ques­tion on cen­sus forms is an im­por­tant part of its ef­forts to pro­tect the vot­ing rights of the nation’s res­i­dents who are mem­bers of mi­nor­ity groups, but the Supreme Court re­jected that jus­ti­fi­ca­tion as a “con­trived” pre­text.

Gov­ern­ment ex­perts have pre­dicted that ask­ing the ques­tion would re­sult in many mi­grants re­fus­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the cen­sus, lead­ing to an un­der­count of mil­lions of peo­ple. That could re­duce Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tion when con­gres­sional districts are al­lo­cated in 2021 and affect how hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in fed­eral spend­ing are dis­trib­uted.

In a state­ment, a Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman said the depart­ment would “promptly in­form the courts” that the gov­ern­ment would not seek to in­clude a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion in the cen­sus.

The Cen­sus Bureau has said it could pro­duce bet­ter ci­ti­zen­ship data with­out adding the ques­tion.

The bureau had rec­om­mended com­bin­ing in­for­ma­tion from the an­nual Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey with records held by other fed­eral agen­cies that al­ready in­clude ci­ti­zen­ship records.

“This would re­sult in higher qual­ity data pro­duced at lower cost,” Cen­sus Bureau Deputy Di­rec­tor Ron Jarmin wrote in a De­cem­ber 2017 email to a Jus­tice Depart­ment official.

But Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross, who over­sees the Cen­sus Bureau, ul­ti­mately re­jected that ap­proach and or­dered the ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion be added to the cen­sus.

The Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey, which polls 3.5 mil­lion U.S. house­holds ev­ery year, al­ready in­cludes ques­tions about re­spon­dents’ ci­ti­zen­ship.

Some Democrats com­plained Thurs­day that the pub­lic de­bate it­self might have sown fear among mi­grants in the coun­try and could taint their view of the cen­sus, even if it does not in­clude a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion.

Fol­low­ing Trump to the Rose Gar­den podium, U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr said that any ad­min­is­tra­tion move to mod­ify the cen­sus would have sur­vived le­gal re­view, but only after a lengthy process that would have jeop­ar­dized the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­ity to con­duct the cen­sus in a timely man­ner.

“Put simply, the im­ped­i­ment was a lo­gis­ti­cal im­ped­i­ment, not a le­gal one,” Barr said. “We simply can­not com­plete the lit­i­ga­tion in time to carry out the cen­sus.”

Trump crit­i­cized Democrats in his an­nounce­ment Thurs­day.

“As shocking as it may be, far-left Democrats in our coun­try are de­ter­mined to con­ceal the num­ber of il­le­gal aliens in our midst,” he said. “They prob­a­bly know the num­ber is far greater, much higher than any­one would have ever be­lieved be­fore. Maybe that’s why they fight so hard. This is part of a broader left-wing ef­fort to erode the rights of the Amer­i­can cit­i­zen and is very un­fair to our coun­try.”

Dale Ho, the di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union’s Vot­ing Rights Project, said in a state­ment that Trump’s “at­tempt to weaponize the cen­sus ends not with a bang but a whim­per.”

“He lost in the Supreme Court, which saw through his lie about need­ing the ques­tion for the Vot­ing Rights Act,” said Ho, who ar­gued the Supreme Court case. “It is clear he simply wanted to sow fear in im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties and tur­bocharge Repub­li­can ger­ry­man­der­ing ef­forts by di­lut­ing the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence of Latino com­mu­ni­ties.”

In his an­nounce­ment, Trump also said states could use the data he has or­dered to be col­lected to draw vot­ing districts in a new way. States cur­rently draw districts so that they con­tain equal num­bers of peo­ple, whether or not they are el­i­gi­ble to vote. Trump sug­gested that states will soon have in­for­ma­tion to al­low them to draw districts based on equal num­bers of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers.

“Some states,” he said, “may want to draw state and lo­cal leg­isla­tive districts, based upon the voter el­i­gi­ble pop­u­la­tion.”

If peo­ple in­el­i­gi­ble to vote were evenly dis­trib­uted, the dif­fer­ence be­tween count­ing all peo­ple and count­ing only el­i­gi­ble vot­ers would not mat­ter. But de­mo­graphic patterns vary widely.

Places with large num­bers of res­i­dents who can­not vote — in­clud­ing chil­dren, im­mi­grants who are in the United States le­gally but are not ci­ti­zens, unau­tho­rized mi­grants and peo­ple dis­en­fran­chised after com­mit­ting felonies — on the whole tend to be ur­ban and to vote Demo­cratic. Districts based on equal num­bers of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers would gen­er­ally move po­lit­i­cal power away from cities and to­ward older and more ho­mo­ge­neous ru­ral ar­eas that tend to vote for Repub­li­cans.

Op­po­nents of the ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion swiftly con­demned Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment, calling Trump’s po­si­tion largely a face-saving mea­sure.

“This news con­fer­ence was to­tal pro­pa­ganda,” said Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s civil-rights divi­sion and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence.

“The gov­ern­ment al­ready has access to all of this ci­ti­zen­ship data through ad­min­is­tra­tive records, and al­ready stud­ies it,” Gupta said. “Trump just didn’t want to ad­mit de­feat.”

“Put simply, the im­ped­i­ment was a lo­gis­ti­cal im­ped­i­ment, not a le­gal one. We simply can­not com­plete the lit­i­ga­tion in time to carry out the cen­sus.”

— At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, fol­lowed by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr and Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross, ar­rives Thurs­day at the White House Rose Gar­den. Trump said his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents were “try­ing to erase the very ex­is­tence of a very im­por­tant word and a very im­por­tant thing, ci­ti­zen­ship.”

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