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Trump backs down on census citizenship question

July 12, 2019

US President Donald Trump has abandoned his bid to put a controversial citizenship question on the 2020 census, after outrage from civil rights groups. However, he vowed he would find a way to count immigrants in the US.

US President Trump  speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House
Image: Reuters/C. Barria

US President Donald Trump backed off from his push to ask about citizenship on the upcoming census in 2020 on Thursday, but said he would continue his push to tally non-citizens using other means.

"We are pursuing a new option to ensure a complete and timely count of the non-citizen population," the president told a press conference at the White House.

The move comes two weeks after the Supreme Court blocked the question, saying in their 5-4 decision that the Trump administration's arguments were "contrived."

Trump pushed back, saying last week that he was considering postponing the census or pushing the issue with an executive order, which would have been met with an immediate legal challenge.

On Thursday, Trump said he'd directed federal agencies to count the number of immigrants currently living in the US by using existing databases. Democrats and civil rights groups said they will be assessing the legality of Trump's latest attempt to tally non-citizens.

Activists take part in a protest about the proposed citizenship question the US census in Washington DC
Critics argued that the citizenship question was geared towards boosting financial and political power for RepublicansImage: picture-alliance/M. Nigro

Why is the US Census important?

It's a major nationwide survey that is carried out every 10 years and is mandated by the US Constitution. It counts the number of people currently living in each US household and asks about each person's sex, race and age.

The census data is key for calculating the number of seats in the US House of Representatives that are allocated to each state. The more populous a state, the more representatives it gets in the lower chamber of Congress.

The data is also used to distribute some $675 billion (€599 billion) in federal spending, including money for law enforcement, public schools, Medicaid benefits and road repairs.

What was controversial about Trump's question?

Civil rights groups and Democrats staunchly opposed including the question, which was removed from the census more than 60 years ago.

Officials with the US Census Bureau said that the question could stop between 1.6 million to 6.5 million immigrants from participating in the survey or answering honestly. That would be particularly the case for undocumented immigrants fearing deportation.

With fewer immigrants taking part in the survey, the population data would have gone down in areas that are more likely to vote Democratic — thereby giving a financial and political boost to Republicans.

Trump argued on Thursday that citizenship data would help states that "may want to draw state and local legislative districts based upon the voter-eligible population." This would make a massive change from the current system of drawing districts based on the total populations of those areas.

rs/ng (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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