WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump dropped plans on Thursday to add a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 census but insisted the government would obtain the data by other means.
“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” Trump said in an announcement at the White House.
He said he was ordering every federal government agency to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in the country.
“We will leave no stone unturned,” he said.
Trump’s plan to add the question to the census ran into a roadblock two weeks ago when the Supreme Court ruled against the plan. He had been expected until a few hours before his remarks to go ahead despite that ruling by using an executive order to include the question, prompting some analysts to say he risked a constitutional crisis by going ahead.
The US Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department. The Constitution specifically assigns the job of overseeing the census to Congress, which complicated adding the question to the once-a-decade nationwide survey via presidential order.
Critics of the Trump administration’s effort say that asking about citizenship in the census discriminates against racial minorities and is aimed at giving Republicans an unfair advantage in elections. Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country.
Republican Trump has made hard-line policies on immigration a feature of his presidency and his campaign for re-election in 2020. The more than 20 Democrats vying for their party’s nomination to run against Trump question his immigration policies.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Trump would do everything within his legal authority to determine and make public who is in the United States legally and who is not.
“It should come as no surprise… that the president wants to know who’s in this country legally and lawfully and who isn’t. And he’s going to do everything within his legal authority to make sure that that information is known because the American people have a right to know,” he told reporters.
Courts had halted Trump’s attempts to add the question because of challenges from some US states and civil rights groups. The US Supreme Court blocked Trump’s citizenship question on June 27, faulting the administration’s rationale as “contrived.”
Trump’s decision to drop plans for an executive order was first reported by ABC News.
Opponents of the proposed census citizenship question had vowed to challenge Trump’s new action in court.
“The Supreme Court has spoken. The Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census is unlawful. If President Trump takes executive action, we will take legal action,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.
The census is used to determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives and also affects how billions of dollars in federal funds are doled out.
The legal battle has also extended to how the Department of Justice has handled the case. The department, led by US Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, sought to shake up its legal team by replacing the lawyers involved with handling litigation on the census.
On Wednesday, a second federal judge rejected the department’s efforts, saying it had to offer detailed reasoning for the change.
Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform, said the House would vote on July 16 to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas seeking information about the administration’s attempts to add the census question.