WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday abandoned his battle to place a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, and instructed the government to compile citizenship data from existing federal records, a significant retreat in the president’s wider crackdown on unauthorized immigration.
Trump announced in the Rose Garden that he was giving up on the census question two weeks after the Supreme Court rebuked the Trump administration over its effort to modify the census. Just last week, Trump insisted that he “must” pursue that goal.
He instead said he was issuing an executive order instructing federal departments and agencies to provide the Census Bureau with citizenship data immediately.
“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” Trump insisted.
The Trump administration has argued that including the question on census forms is an important part of its efforts to protect the voting rights of the nation’s minority residents, but the Supreme Court rejected that justification as a “contrived” pretext.
Government experts have predicted that asking the question would cause many immigrants to refuse to participate in the census, leading to an undercount of about 6.5 million people. That could reduce Democratic representation when congressional districts are allocated in 2021 and affect how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending are distributed.
The new approach, which appears to have been available to the Trump administration all along, could provide a clearer picture of how many people living in the United States are citizens without distorting census participation. But some Democrats complained on Thursday that the public debate itself might have sown fear among immigrants in the country and could taint their view of the census, even if it does not include the question about citizenship.
Trump’s climb down came just days after his attorney general, William P. Barr, said that the court’s ruling was “wrong” and that the citizenship question could still appear on the census, whose mass printing must begin soon. Trump himself wrote in a tweet on July 3 that the administration was “absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.