President Donald Trump announced July 11 that he is issuing an executive order to “defend the right to know who is a citizen and who is not,” and ordered “every department and agency to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records in existence to gain a full and accurate count of citizens, non-citizens and illegal aliens.”
The Administration will thus drop the fight to get a citizenship question in the Census, after litigation that Trump called “meritless” actually “closed all paths to adding the question to the 2020 Census,” said Attorney General William Bar, explaining the decision after Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Trump said this would be a “much more accurate” way to gather this information. However, his administration had rejected this option more than a year ago when they decided to go with the question, even though the Census’s own research indicates the self-reported citizenship is less accurate than gathering other data from U.S. departments.
The President also managed to frame the whole issue for his conservative followers, alleging in his speech that the fight against the citizenship question was led by people who “are trying to erase the very existence of the word citizenship and who are even going after the pledge of allegiance.”
Attorney General Barr denied that the administration ever considered an executive order to revive the question and said this was based on “speculation and nothing more.” However, the President himself said in televised interviews that he was considering a “number of options, including an executive order” to get the question back in the Census.
Over the last couple of weeks the legal and political wrangling over the citizenship question, abruptly added by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as he came into the Administration, was confusing to many, as Trump seemed willing to ignore a Supreme Court decision and do what was necessary to achieve his goals.
At the end of June, the Supreme Court of the United States forbade the use of a citizenship question, stating that the Trump Administration had not presented a coherent reason to make the last-minute change.
Then, as his own attorneys announced the Census questionnaires were printing without the question, he went back and forth on Twitter saying that he would do anything necessary to include the question, including issuing an executive order and delaying the Census.
Constitutional experts said this would provoke a constitutional crisis: the President can’t implement something that goes against the decisions of the Supreme Court.
In the end, Trump found the way to back down while maintaining that he did not retreat, He has just changed tactics.
Activists celebrate and announce they will be vigilant
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued the Supreme Court case, said in a statement that “Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper. It is clear he simply wanted to sow fear in immigrant communities and turbocharge Republican gerrymandering efforts by diluting the political influence of Latino communities.”
Ho added that “when the details of Trump’s new plan to compile citizenship data outside of the census come out —and his plans for using that data — we will scrutinize them closely and assess their legality.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the move a “victory for all Americans, no matter how he tries to frame it.”
“It is time for the Trump Administration to move on. The bottom line remains: everyone must count in our nation and no one should be pushed into the shadows. We encourage everyone to complete the census form and remember that individual information collected by the Census Bureau is confidential and protected by law. Now it’s time to get to work to ensure a fair, legal, and accurate count,” Becerra said.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund CEO Arturo Vargas said that “this contentious effort to undermine the progress of the Latino community and suppress the count of Latinos has left an indelible mark on Census 2020. The damage has already been done, and it will be no small feat attempting to heal the catastrophic wounds that have been inflicted on our democracy in recent months.”
Pilar Marrero is a veteran reporter for La Opinion and a contributing editor to EMS’s Census newsbeat.