Citizenship Still Counts

Written by Alicia Powe on July 22, 2019

After the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, President Donald Trump insists his fallback plan will provide an even more accurate count — determining the citizenship of 90 percent of the population “or more.”

To get an accurate count of non-citizens and citizens in the United States, Trump issued an executive order on Thursday. The measure which Trump said would be “far more accurate” than relying on a citizenship question in the 2020 census, mandates government agencies to distill a massive trove of data, likely from across 50 states, to the Department of Commerce, which manages the census.

“Today I’m here to say we are not backing down in our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” the president told reporters in the Rose Garden.

Trump slammed “far-left Democrats” for seeking to “conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst.”

“We will leave no stone unturned,” Trump asserted.

While legal opposition to adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is “meritless,” the president argued, the ongoing judicial morass in several federal district courts made it logistically impossible to resolve the matter before the 2020 census forms needed to be printed.

Attorney General William Barr, accompanying the president along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in the Rose Garden, affirmed that the 2020 census will not include a question on citizenship. Barr explained that “the problem is that any new decision would be subject to immediate challenge.”

“We’re not going to jeopardize our ability to carry out the census,” Barr said.

But Trump’s executive order will likely be limited by logistical hurdles and legal restrictions, as left-leaning, so-called civil rights groups vow to consider challenging the executive order in court.

American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project warns Trump’s primary objective for obtaining the data on citizenship is to “demonize people from certain races.” If Republicans use citizenship data to draw congressional districts, managing attorney of the group, Sarah Brannon warns, the executive order will be challenged in court.

If states try to draw districts using that data, the ACLU “certainly will investigate their motivations, and investigate the circumstances under which those decisions were being made, and absolutely would pursue any indication that those decisions are being made on the basis of race.”

While Leftists still vow to wage legal hurdles against Trump’s executive order, top conservatives in the legal community are criticizing Trump for caving in the fight to include the citizenship question on the census.

“What was the dance… all about if this was going to be the end result?” one conservative voice said about the whole ordeal, according to Axios.

Another said it was a “total waste of everyone’s time,” adding that it’s “certainly going to give people pause the next time one has to decide how far to stick one’s neck out.”

A Republican strategist told the publication that Trump’s decision to end the fight felt like a “punch in the gut.”

But the administration’s ability to obtain records that will identify the citizenship status for 100 percent of the population is a win, argues Georgetown University law professor John Baker.

“Some media have reported that Trump has abandoned the citizenship question,” Baker told Big League Politics. “This is a half-truth. Although the 2020 Census will not ask a citizenship question, the President’s order has guaranteed that federal agencies will have to cooperate with Secretary Ross who will receive the data from those federal agencies that have the relevant information. Relatively recently, the President learned that federal agencies collectively have enough information to identify who is and who is not a citizen.”

Citizenship data is necessary for a redistricting of House seats that excludes aliens from the calculation, Baker contends.

“The executive order cites a 2018 Yale University study estimating the illegal alien population in the U.S. at between 16.2 million and 29.5 million. Previously and still, however, media outlets routinely state the estimated number at 11 million or 12 million. The uncertainty as to whether the illegal alien population has been grossly underestimated provides more than sufficient justification for striving for an accurate count of citizens and non-citizens,” Baker writes in a recent op-ed.

“If more is needed, however, the executive order particularizes legitimate reasons for an accurate count of citizens and aliens: immigration policy reform, the costs associated with illegal entry, protection of benefit programs restricted to citizens, and reapportionment of state legislative districts,” he continues.

Despite the Supreme Court decision on the matter, 67 percent of voters say the census should be able to ask whether people living in the U.S. are citizens, according to a recent Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll.

Alicia Powe is an independent journalist based in Washington D.C.

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