- President Donald Trump abandoned his push for a citizenship question on the 2020 census Thursday, opting for an executive order directing federal agencies to share citizenship data with census officials.
- Trump’s order embraces a plan that opponents of the census citizenship question urged the government to pursue.
- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross previously rejected the records-gathering approach Trump authorized Thursday, saying data the government currently has is incomplete.
President Donald Trump’s executive order on citizenship data collection lays out a plan that hostile judges and opponents of the census citizenship question urged the government to follow from the start of the legal fight.
Indeed, the steps outlined in Thursday’s order were previously repudiated by the president’s own senior aides and lawyers.
“This is brutal,” an administration official told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Democrats are cheering now and it was a totally winnable issue the timid lawyers fumbled.”
Thursday’s executive order directs government entities to assist the Commerce Department in calculating the number of citizens and non-citizens present in the country. For example, the order requires the State Department to make passport application data available to Commerce officials.
The Census Bureau urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to follow that very plan as he contemplated adding a citizenship question to the census form. Career officials at the Bureau said that approach would yield more precise results than responses to a question on the census form.
Ross rejected the idea in a March 2018 decision memo, saying “administrative records alone … would provide an incomplete picture.” After the 2010 census, the Bureau was able to match 88 percent of the population to “credible administrative record data,” Ross wrote. That means that citizenship data was missing for 10 percent of the population, or 25 million people. Ross said a citizenship question on the census form would be the best way to fill in that missing data, combined with enhanced record-gathering techniques.
“Given the scale of this number, it was imperative that another option be developed to provide a greater level of accuracy than either self-response alone or use of administrative records alone would presently provide,” Ross wrote.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco cited Ross’s finding during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in April.
“Some 25 million voting-age people would need to have their citizen age imputed by the Census Bureau,” Francisco told the Court. “And so [Ross] was making clear that he’d rather go with actual counting than imputation.”
As such, Thursday’s announcement was a reversion to a policy the administration itself had deemed inadequate. (RELATED: Judge Rejects Trump Bid To Swap Lawyers In Census Case)