Turning to a non-census avenue on citizenship question

An envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (The Associated Press)

 

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to drop his bid to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, according to a House Republicans aide. Trump instead will pursue other avenues for collecting citizenship information after the Supreme Court blocked his census efforts, according to current and former administration officials familiar with the plans.

Trump tweeted Thursday morning that he would be holding a news conference on the subject. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview the plans, said the president would be announcing new executive action as part of the effort but did not elaborate. Officials were still scrambling to finalize language in the hours after Trump's tweet.

The American Community Survey, which polls 3.5 million U.S. households every year, already includes questions about respondents' citizenship, so it is unclear what Trump has in mind.

But Trump appeared to preview his remarks at a White House social media summit, where he complained about being told: "'Sir, you can't ask that question ... because the courts said you can't.'"

Describing the situation as "the craziest thing," he went on to contend that surveyors can ask residents how many toilets they have and, "What's their roof made of? The only thing we can't ask is, 'Are you a citizen of the United States?'"

"I think we have a solution that will be very good for a lot of people," he added.

Trump had said last week that he was "very seriously" considering an executive order to try to force the citizenship question's inclusion, despite the fact that the government has already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it.

But any action to get past the Supreme Court ruling would have been likely to draw an immediate legal challenge.

The congressional aide, as well as the current and former administration officials all spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Trump's thinking in advance of a formal announcement.

The Census Bureau had stressed repeatedly that it could produce better citizenship data without adding the question to the decennial census, which had not been done since 1950.

The bureau 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 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.

Critics had warned that including the citizenship question on the census would discourage participation, not only by those living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating will expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.

Keeping the prospect of adding the question alive could in itself scare some away from participating, while showing Trump's base that he is fighting for the issue.

Trump's 2016 campaign was animated by his pledge to crack down on illegal immigration, and he has tied the citizenship question to that issue, insisting the U.S. must know who is living here.

An executive order, by itself, would not have overridden court rulings blocking the question, though it could have given administration lawyers a new basis on which to try to convince federal courts the question passes muster.