President Donald Trump retreated from his quest to add a question about US citizenship to the 2020 census on Thursday, declaring instead he would ask government agencies to provide records that could determine a head-count of citizens without polling census-takers directly.
The turnaround comes after Trump repeatedly said he would continue fighting to insert the question despite a Supreme Court ruling that dealt a blow to the effort last month. It reflects legal reality intersecting with Trump’s desire to bolster his image as an immigration hard-liner as he moves ahead with his 2020 reelection bid.
Instead of attempting to put the question on census forms, or adding it separately, Trump said he was issuing an executive order directing the Commerce Department to obtain citizenship data through means other than the census. That includes documents from the Department of Homeland Security, which houses citizenship and asylum services, and the Social Security Administration.
“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the US population,” Trump said in laying out his plan.
The Supreme Court late last month blocked the citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census. The bitter controversy centered around whether the administration can ask all recipients a citizenship question on the 2020 census for the first time since 1950 — a move that could have impacted the balance of power in states and the House of Representatives, which are based on total population.
Adding the question, critics say, would result in minorities being undercounted by scaring off even legal residents or naturalized citizens from completing the decennial questionnaire, which is also used to determine funding for an array of government programs.