Donald Trump backs down on census citizenship promise

US president says he will order agencies to hand records on residents to government

President Donald Trump during an announcement in the Rose Garden at the White House, in Washington on July 11th. Photograph: New York Times

President Donald Trump during an announcement in the Rose Garden at the White House, in Washington on July 11th. Photograph: New York Times

 

US president Donald Trump abandoned his controversial bid to demand citizenship details from all respondents in next year’s census, instead directing federal agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.

“It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and non-citizens that make up the United States population,” Mr Trump said at a Rose Garden announcement.

He insisted he was “not backing down”.

His reversal comes after the Supreme Court blocked his efforts to include the citizenship question and as the government had already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it.

Mr Trump had said last week that he was “very seriously” considering an executive order to try to force the question’s inclusion, even though such a move would surely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.

But he said he would instead be signing an executive order directing agencies to turn records over to the Department of Commerce.

“We’re aiming to count everyone,” he said.

The American Community Survey, which polls 3.5 million US households every year, already includes questions about respondents’ citizenship.

Critics have 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 non-citizen family members to repercussions.

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

Mr 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 US 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.

Mr Trump had previewed his remarks earlier Thursday at a White House social media event, 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?’”. – PA