Trump to announce action over census citizenship question: report

Trump's expected executive action in fight to add citizenship question to the census likely sets up another legal battle

    Trump is insistent that the question be added to the census despite the legal challenges [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]
    Trump is insistent that the question be added to the census despite the legal challenges [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

    US President Donald Trump on Thursday will announce an executive action over his administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census despite ongoing court challenges, US media reported, citing administration officials.

    Trump, in a tweet, said he would hold a news conference about the census following a planned meeting on social media on Thursday afternoon. The White House said the press conference would take place at 5pm (21:00GMT).

    The administration's attempts to add the contentious question have been blocked in the courts because of challenges from some US states and civil rights groups.

    The intent of the citizenship question, opponents said, was to manufacture a deliberate undercount of areas with high immigrant and Latino populations, costing Democratic-leaning regions seats in the House of Representatives.

    Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country.

    The administration was still ironing out the details of the action, which was likely to be an executive order, one official told Reuters News Agency. 

    It's unclear however if Trump's expected action will be directly tied to the census or another survey. 

    ABC News, citing sources familiar with the issue, reported later on Thursday that Trump will back down from his effort to get the question added to the 2020 census and will instead use an executive action to direct the Commerce Department to get the data through other means. 


    Legal fight

    Trump and his administration's efforts to add a question to the nation's decennial population survey have become embroiled in a legal fight not only over plaintiffs' opposition but also over the Department of Justice's handling of the cases.

    Evidence surfaced in May that the challengers said showed that the administration's plan to add a citizenship question was intended to discriminate against racial minorities. This week, a judge in Maryland ordered proceedings to continue in a case about those claims, which the Trump administration has called "conspiracy theory".

    In a separate case last month, the Supreme Court ruled against the Republican president's first attempt to add the question, saying the administration's rationale was "contrived" but leaving the door open to its possible addition if officials could offer a new explanation.

    Since then, the Justice Department has sought to shake up its legal team by replacing the lawyers handling the case. On Wednesday, a second federal judge rejected the department's efforts, saying it had to offer detailed reasoning for the change.

    Attorneys within the Trump administration have been studying the census issue and intend to keep the president's order within the confines of the Supreme Court decision, but they are cognizant that whatever action he takes is likely to be challenged in court again.

    Trump said last week that he was "very seriously" considering executive action to try to force the question's inclusion, and that it was among four or five options he'd been weighing.

    "It's one of the ways that we're thinking about doing it, very seriously," he said, despite the fact that the government has already begun the process of printing the census questionnaire without the question.

    2020 census
    Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census [File: J Scott Applewhite/Reuters] 

    The US Constitution specifically assigns the job of overseeing the census to Congress, limiting a president's authority, which could complicate any effort to add the question via presidential missive.

    Trump has been insistent that the question be added to the census despite the legal challenges.

    The administration's focus on asking broadly about citizenship for the first time since 1950 reflects the enormous political stakes and potential costs in the once-a-decade population count that determines the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies