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Trump To Speak On Census

Jul 11, 2019
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump will make an announcement later today about a controversial citizenship question that his administration wants to add to the 2020 census. Last month, the Supreme Court blocked that question from the census for now, but President Trump has said he is considering taking executive action to get the question back on.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census-related and joins us now. Hi, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Are we expecting the president to say, I'm doing this by executive action?

WANG: It's possible. He's been saying that - in recent days - that he is considering taking executive action in the form of an executive order or memorandum, some directive that's among the routes that he was considering - is considering. We will see exactly what this pathway is that he may announce today. And we have to remember this is - again, the question is, is this person a citizen of the United States? The Supreme Court has blocked this from being added.

MARTIN: So I mean, can an executive order get around the Supreme Court's decision?

WANG: The Supreme Court did leave open a window for the administration to make a new argument for this question because it found the Trump administration's original stated reason for the question - to better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act, specifically the part that would better protect the voting rights of racial and language minorities - a majority of the court found that reasoning to appear to be contrived. But it did open this possibility for another case to be made in court. And the Trump administration may be trying to do that. We'll see what reasoning they can come up with at this point.

A big question is whether or not that reasoning will be held up in court because there is a very extensive record of internal emails, memos and now, public comments by President Trump, as well as other officials, that do not match up with wanting to add it for Voting Rights Act reasons.

MARTIN: Right. We should just remind people that the administration's justification for this is that they believe the question is actually going to expand voting rights. And what are the - what's the problem with that?

WANG: This - the Voting Rights Act - Section 2 of it has been enforced with existing government data on citizenship. There already is citizenship data from the American Community Survey. The Trump administration tried to make the argument that that data is not sufficient, but Voting Rights Act experts in lower courts have agreed that there's no issue here. Voting Rights Act can still be enforced with this data.

But another issue here is that the Census Bureau has concluded that if, indeed, this Trump administration wants more detailed citizenship data from a census question about citizenship - that adding a citizenship question is not the best way to get that information. If you want to know exactly who in the country is and is not a U.S. citizen, asking people to self-report that information on the census form will not produce accurate information - will be an expensive way to do that.

There already are existing government records that the Census Bureau's actually already been compiling at the direction of the commerce secretary, who oversees the Census Bureau. These are records from the Social Security Administration. These are records from Department of Homeland Security, as well as the State Department. Those records are ready to go, Census Bureau officials say. They can release that, anonymized, without identifying individuals, and it'll be more accurate. It'll actually tell the president who actually is and who isn't a citizen in the country.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, as we keep saying at the end of these conversations with you, Hansi, the thing has already gone to press, has it not? The census is being printed.

WANG: That's what the Justice Department and Commerce Department officials have said - printed without this question. And any changes at this point to the census forms could really derail this constitutionally mandated head count.

There are very strict deadlines. The Census Bureau has to deliver population counts for every state by the end of 2020. That may seem a very far-off away for most people, but this is a very, very elaborate process. It's the largest peacetime operation in the country. Any changes at this point could derail the whole census.

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

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