Trump re­treats from cen­sus plan

Pres­i­dent in­structs agen­cies to find ways to col­lect cit­i­zen data

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Jill Colvin, Mark Sher­man and Zeke Miller

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump aban­doned his controvers­ial bid to in­ject a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion into next year’s cen­sus Thurs­day, in­stead di­rect­ing fed­eral agen­cies to try to com­pile the in­for­ma­tion us­ing ex­ist­ing data­bases.

He in­sisted he was “not back­ing down,” declar­ing in a Rose Gar­den an­nounce­ment that the goal was simple and rea­son­able: “a clear break­down of the num­ber of ci­ti­zens and non-ci­ti­zens that make up the United States pop­u­la­tion.”

But the de­ci­sion was a re­ver­sal, after the Supreme Court 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. The gov­ern­ment has al­ready 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.

Trump’s ef­forts to add the ques­tion on the cen­sus had drawn back­lash from crit­ics who com­plained that it was po­lit­i­cal, meant to dis­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion, not only by peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally but also by ci­ti­zens who fear that par­tic­i­pat­ing would ex­pose non-cit­i­zen 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 weaponize the cen­sus ends not with a bang but a whim­per.”

Trump said he would be sign­ing 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, 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. But it is still un­clear what Trump in­tends to do with the ci­ti­zen­ship in­for­ma­tion.

At one point he sug­gested it could help states that “may want to draw state and lo­cal leg­isla­tive districts based upon the voter-el­i­gi­ble pop­u­la­tion.” That would mark a change from how districts are drawn cur­rently, based on the en­tire pop­u­la­tion, and could in­crease Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal power.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr said there was dis­agree­ment over whether “il­le­gal aliens” can be in­cluded for ap­por­tion­ment pur­poses. “De­pend­ing on the res­o­lu­tion of that dis­pute, this data may be rel­e­vant to those con­sid­er­a­tions,” he said.

The Cen­sus Bureau has stressed that 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,” deputy Cen­sus Bureau Di­rec­tor Ron Jarmin had writ­ten in a De­cem­ber 2017 email to a Jus­tice Depart­ment official. But Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross, who over­sees the Cen­sus Bureau, 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.

Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion had faced nu­mer­ous road­blocks to adding the ques­tion, be­gin­ning with the rul­ing by the Supreme Court tem­po­rar­ily bar­ring its in­clu­sion on the grounds that the gov­ern­ment’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion was in­suf­fi­cient. Two fed­eral judges also re­jected the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s plan to re­place the le­gal team fight­ing for in­clu­sion.

Trump had in­sisted his ad­min­is­tra­tion push for­ward, sug­gest­ing last week that of­fi­cials might be able to add an ad­den­dum to the ques­tion­naire with the ques­tion after it was printed. He has also toyed with the idea of halt­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated sur­vey while the le­gal fight en­sued.

Barr said he was con­fi­dent the cen­sus ques­tion would have even­tu­ally sur­vived le­gal re­view but the process would have taken too long to work its way through the courts.

Trump had of­fered mul­ti­ple ex­pla­na­tions for why he be­lieved the ques­tion was nec­es­sary to in­clude in the once-a-decade pop­u­la­tion count that de­ter­mines the al­lo­ca­tion of seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the next 10 years and the dis­tri­bu­tion of some $675 bil­lion in fed­eral spend­ing.

“You need it for Congress, for dis­trict­ing. You need it for ap­pro­pri­a­tions. Where are the funds going? How many peo­ple are there? Are they ci­ti­zens? Are they not ci­ti­zens? You need it for many rea­sons,” he told re­porters last week, de­spite that con­gres­sional districts are based on to­tal pop­u­la­tion, re­gard­less of res­i­dents’ na­tional ori­gin or immigratio­n sta­tus.

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks Thurs­day about his de­ci­sion to aban­don a bid to in­ject a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion into next year’s cen­sus.

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