Trump Administration To Continue Pursuing Addition Of Citizenship Question To Census

Jul 5, 2019
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The fight over adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is still not over. Earlier today, the Trump Administration told a federal judge they're still looking for ways to include it. This despite the fact that the Supreme Court has put the question on hold for now, and despite the fact that earlier this week the Justice Department confirmed printing of census forms without the question has already started. But President Trump is not ready to give up.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census related. He joins us now. And, Hansi, tell me more about what exactly the Trump administration said to this federal judge in Maryland today.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Well, Justice Department attorneys essentially said they're still looking for ways to get this question - is this person a citizen of the United States? - on to the 2020 census forms. But they did not provide any details on how that could be done. But they said if they can find a new reason for adding this question, they're going to make a new filing with the Supreme Court.

And it's important to remember that a majority of the Supreme Court has blocked this question from being added for now. The main reason is that if the majority found that the stated reason of the Justice Department for or - the Trump administration for adding this question to better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act, that reason - a majority found that it seems to have been contrived.

KELLY: And to the practical question, which is front and center here - as I mentioned, the forms are already being printed. The question is not on there. Is there still time to add this question to the census?

WANG: Time is running out. The Census Bureau officials, they have said previously that the deadline for finalizing the 2020 census forms could be pushed back to October 31. But that would require, quote, "exceptional effort and additional resources."

And we have to remember, this is a really big job to print the 2020 census forms. It's not just forms. It's letters. It's postcards. It's envelopes. It's 1.5 billion materials that will go to around 140 million households. That's 95% of households in the country that have to get these materials by next May - mid-March, rather.

KELLY: By next March to get this under way and keep everything running on time. Hansi, why is President Trump so invested in the citizenship question?

WANG: It's not clear if there is one driving reason for this. The administration, again, has said that the stated reason was they want to use these responses to better protect the voting rights of racial minorities. Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have rejected that explanation. President Trump recently said that he wanted this question so - to find out if somebody is a citizen, as opposed to an unauthorized immigrant, even though this question does not ask about a person's immigration status. And today, President Trump gave more reasons why he thinks it's important when he spoke to reporters outside the White House. Let's listen to what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, you need it for many reasons. No. 1, you need it for Congress. You need it for Congress for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? They need it for many reasons.

WANG: And it's important to remember that redistricting and the redistribution of congressional seats, that's based on census numbers of the total number of residents, not just U.S. citizens.

KELLY: Right, so that would not be an argument for getting the Supreme Court to change its mind. Meanwhile, what are you hearing, Hansi, from the groups who oppose this and have gone to court to register how strongly they oppose it?

WANG: Well, I checked in with the head of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, AAJC, one of the groups challenging this question. John Yang - he said in a statement that essentially he sees the Trump administration not admitting defeat and that it's trying to buy time to pursue a, quote, "hopeless strategy" and creating a lot of confusion about the census in the meantime.

And, you know, one thing that's happening right now is a federal judge in Maryland is going to move forward. Now the Trump administration isn't giving up its efforts. He's moving forward with reconsidering allegations that this question was intended to discriminate against immigrant communities of color.

KELLY: All right. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. Thanks, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.