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Trump Administration Backs Off Adding Citizenship Question To Census

Jul 12, 2019
Originally published on July 12, 2019 11:37 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After a long effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Trump administration says it's done trying. Speaking at the White House yesterday, President Trump blamed his opponents on the left.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm proud to be a citizen. You're proud to be a citizen. The only people who are not proud to be citizens are the ones who are fighting us all the way about the word citizen.

MARTIN: So even though the president has stopped fighting to try to get the question on the census, he is now trying to get the information a different way.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang is with us now. Hansi, what's he going to do? What's the administration going to do to try to get the citizenship information?

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: President Trump says the administration is going to do what the Census Bureau recommended it to do to begin with, which is if they wanted to have more detailed citizenship data, then to use administrative records or existing government records from various federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security - that that data would be more accurate than collecting self-reported responses to a citizenship question.

MARTIN: So let's back up. Why did the Trump administration give up on this in the first place, getting the question on the census?

WANG: Well, President Trump and Attorney General William Barr said that the administration was really crunched for time, that to add a question at this point about citizenship, now that the printing of the census forms has already started without that question, that would really derail the census. There would be no time to make that happen without harming this constitutionally mandated headcount from happening on time.

And so this executive order that President Trump has issued tries to make sure that administrative records, existing government records are ready to go. But it's unclear what impact that might have. Again, the bureau has already been directed by the administration to compile these records. But it does give some finality that there will be citizenship information the administration is wanting to push forward. And it opens up the next potential fight here.

MARTIN: Like what? What's the fight that comes next?

WANG: Well, there are two main fights that are likely to take place now there might be citizenship information. When the census is done, numbers from the population counts determine how many congressional seats each state gets. But there is this ongoing lawsuit by the state of Alabama, which is challenging this longstanding practice of dividing up congressional seats to involve every person living in the country - that's based on the 14th Amendment, which calls for the whole number of persons in each state to be counted.

But Alabama is arguing that congressional seats should be divided up based on the number of just U.S. citizens and green card holders. And the Justice Department has been defending the Census Bureau in including unauthorized immigrants in those numbers. But yesterday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said something that really raises questions about what the administration's position is on this issue going forward. Let's listen to what he said.

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WILLIAM BARR: There is a current dispute 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. We will be studying this issue.

WANG: It's important to point out that other groups have intervened in this case in case the Trump administration doesn't want to defend the Census Bureau. And we'll see what the Trump administration does next week when a court filing is due.

MARTIN: So that's one battle. You said they were two.

WANG: The next one is about citizenship information and how that could be used at the state and local level for drawing new voting districts. President Trump said this could be used to draw voting districts just based on citizens old enough to vote. A strategist has said that could benefit Republicans, and we'll see if that happens.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Hansi Lo Wang for us on this latest development with the 2020 census. Thanks so much, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.