(CBS)- President Trump announced Thursday he plans to sign an executive order regarding the collection of citizenship information, but the order will not involve the 2020 census. Instead, he ordered all federal government agencies and departments to provide data they have about citizens and non-citizens to the Commerce Department.
The president lambasted “far-left Democrats” for trying to hide “the number of illegal aliens in our midst,” claiming without citing evidence that the number of undocumented immigrants in the country is far higher than reported.
“We will defend the right of the American people to know the full facts about the population’s size of citizens and non-citizens,” Mr. Trump said at the beginning of his remarks, adding, “We have great knowledge in many of our agencies. We will leave no stone unturned.”
Attorney General William Barr, accompanying the president along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in the Rose Garden, affirmed that the 2020 census will not include a question on citizenship. Barr explained that “the problem is that any new decision would be subject to immediate challenge.”
“We’re not going to jeopardize our ability to carry out the census,” Barr said.
He also implicitly addressed criticism by some Democrats that the administration wanted to add a citizenship question to affect congressional apportionment, since the question could discourage immigrants from answering the census, which in turn could result in an undercount that could reduce the number of congressional seats in primarily Democratic states. Barr said that the question of citizenship could become relevant to congressional apportionment.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had threatened to fight any executive action attempting to place the citizenship question on the census, suggested Mr. Trump’s ultimate move, said Mr. Trump’s “attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a ban, but a whimper.”
“He lost in the Supreme Court, which saw through his lie about needing the question for the Voting Rights Act. It is clear he simply wanted to sow fear in immigrant communities and turbocharge Republican gerrymandering efforts by diluting the political influence of Latino communities,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.
The move brings to an end a contentious legal battle over whether a question on citizenship could be included in the census, one that reached the Supreme Court.
“I’m hereby ordering every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in our country,” Mr. Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden Thursday afternoon.