Following a long week of back-and-forth directives, President Donald Trump July 11 abandoned plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, saying that he would instead direct federal agencies — via executive order — to provide data on citizens and non-citizens using their databases.
Immigrant advocates cheered Trump’s apparent back-down on the controversial issue, saying that a citizenship question on the decennial census would lead to a severe under-count of immigrants and minorities, who would be fearful of answering the question because of possible deportation consequences.
The last time a census questionnaire included the citizenship question was 1950.
Indian American political activist Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference, said in a call with reporters immediately following the president’s announcement: “Trump has begrudgingly accepted what the Supreme Court, census experts, and three federal courts have told him — he cannot weaponize the 2020 Census by adding a citizenship question. This is a welcome reprieve of his partisan agenda, and a win for all communities.”
“Trump’s desire is clear — to stoke fear in immigrant communities and construct a whiter electorate. We will not allow anyone to be erased in our America,” said Gupta, who served in the Justice Department during portions of the Obama administration.
“Being counted means being visible, having a say in our government, and getting the resources for our community: resources for schools, roads, and health care,” said John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, who joined Gupta and other civil rights activists on the press call. “We will be counted and this administration will not silence us,” he said.
Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York, noted in a press statement: “It is especially vital that New York and communities throughout the nation receive their fair share of resources and representation. An inaccurate count will have a decade’s worth of consequences, because there are no do-overs with the census; a mistake is a 10-year mistake.”
The Supreme Court June 27 blocked the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which is taken every 10 years, and aims to count the entire U.S. population, regardless of immigration status. On July 5, the Justice Department announced it was still pursuing means to get the question on to the census, even as the Commerce Department stated that census questionnaires had already been printed.
“Are you a citizen of the United States of America? ‘Oh, gee, I’m sorry, I just can’t answer that question,’” Trump mockingly told reporters gathered at the Rose Garden July 11.
“There used to be a time when you could answer questions like that very easily. There used to be a time when you could proudly declare, ‘I am a citizen of the United States.’ Now they’re trying to erase the very existence of a very important word and a very important thing: citizenship,” said the president, flanked by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr.
“It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and non-citizens that make up the U.S. populations. Knowing this information is vital to formulating sound public policy, whether the issue is health care, education, civil rights, or immigration. We must have a reliable count of how many citizens, non-citizens, and illegal aliens are in our country,” stated Trump.
The president announced an executive order stating that all federal agencies must provide the Department of Commerce with data on the number of citizens and non-citizens in the country. “We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete, and accurate count of the non-citizen population, including databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration,” said Trump in a veiled threat to immigrants and undocumented residents.
Watch full speech here:
Barr also spoke at the press conference, saying the administration had every legal right to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Census. He noted, however, that it was too late to continue to pursue the issue, as three district courts and the Supreme Court have blocked the question. He noted that there is an ongoing debate as to whether undocumented immigrants can be counted for purposes of apportionment of Congressional districts.
“Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this (new federal) data may be relevant to those considerations. We will be studying this issue,” he said.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi used the president’s favored method of disseminating information — Twitter — to take a jab at Trump. He retweeted CNN’s Daniel Dale’s tweet: “Trump complaining about not being able to ask about citizenship on the Census: ‘They go through houses, they go up, they ring doorbells, they talk to people. How many toilets do they have? How many desks do they have? How many beds? What's their roof made of?’ "
To which Krishnamoorthi added: “If he thinks that's what census takers ask about, I'm almost surprised the president hasn't proposed replacing the bureau with Zillow.”