Trump Administration's Uncertain Citizenship Question Plans Put Census At Risk The Trump administration appears to have delayed the printing of 1.5 billion paper forms and other mailings for next year's count as it decides whether to try again to add a citizenship question.
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Trump Administration's Delay In Census Printing Sets Up Count's 'Biggest Risk'

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Trump Administration's Delay In Census Printing Sets Up Count's 'Biggest Risk'

Trump Administration's Delay In Census Printing Sets Up Count's 'Biggest Risk'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump says he wants to delay the upcoming 2020 census. Now, the Supreme Court has already ruled on this. It is keeping a citizenship question off the census for now; that's a question the president wanted. He, yesterday, said he has his own view.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You go through all this detail, and you're not allowed to ask whether or not somebody is a citizen? So you can ask other things, but you can't ask whether or not somebody's a citizen? So we are trying to do that. We're looking at that very strongly.

INSKEEP: The uncertainty is now affecting the scheduled printing of paper census forms because the time to do that has arrived. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been tracking all of these developments. He's in New York.

Good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. Yesterday was supposed to be the day the printing began. Did it?

WANG: All signs point to no. I have not gotten an official response from the Census Bureau or from the printing contractor R.R. Donnelley. But if you were to take a look at the website that's tracking the 2020 census materials and whether they've been approved, they have not been approved for printing.

And it appears that this is all over this citizenship question. Is this person a citizen of United States? President Trump wants to get that question onto the census forms even though, for now, the Supreme Court's keeping it off.

INSKEEP: You said for now. Didn't the court give a little bit of room to the administration here?

WANG: That's right. Technically, the decision - the ball is back in the court of the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, if you will. And so the Trump administration can try to make another case in court to give another reason for adding the citizenship question now that the Supreme Court has said the original reason the Trump administration at least said on paper seems to have been contrived - this reason that adding a citizenship question would have helped better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

And President Trump was asked yesterday at the White House why he thinks asking a citizenship question is so important on the census. And what's interesting - he didn't mention the Voting Rights Act. Let's listen to what President Trump said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I think it's very important to find out if somebody's a citizen, as opposed to an illegal. I think that there's a big difference to me between being a citizen of the United States and being an illegal.

INSKEEP: I feel compelled to just pause for a moment, Hansi, and make a couple of points of fact and language. First, referring to a human being as an illegal is something that a lot of people will find offensive, but it's what the president said, so we're telling you. Second, there are other kinds of people in America besides United States citizens and people here illegally. In fact, there are millions of them, so we note that as a point of fact. Go on.

WANG: We should also be clear that the citizenship question, if it is included on the 2020 census, would not be asking about immigration status. And noncitizens living in the U.S., whether they're green card holders or unauthorized immigrants, would just check off a box that says, no, not a U.S. citizen.

INSKEEP: Why would that be so controversial to ask what the president describes as a simple question?

WANG: The Census Bureau has long known that asking about citizenship - those types of questions would be a very sensitive question, something that would make it hard for the Census Bureau and the government to meet a constitutional mandate - once a decade, count every person living in the U.S. You don't see the term citizen when we're talking about the census in the Constitution.

And also, adding a citizenship question, Census Bureau researchers have found out, is not the best way to collect citizenship data. Actually, the best way the Census Bureau researchers have found is to compile existing government records, which would be more accurate and less expensive than asking a citizenship question.

INSKEEP: And, of course, the political bottom line here is that the census not only determines who gets more government aid or less, but also determines who has more or fewer representatives in the House. So there's a lot at stake if you can tweak the numbers in ways that affect that.

WANG: That's right. And the concern here is whether or not households with noncitizens will participate in the census next year.

INSKEEP: Hansi, thanks.

WANG: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

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