MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A long fight over the census has apparently come to an end. The Trump administration has decided to print forms for the 2020 census without a question asking whether respondents are citizens. This comes after more than a year of legal battles. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled to temporarily keep the question off census forms, but the court had left open the possibility that the administration could make its case for the question once more. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census-related. And he joins me from New York.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So this means the Trump administration is no longer going to try to get a citizenship question - any kind of citizenship question on the census.
WANG: It looks like it. I tried to get final confirmation from a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, which is representing the administration. The spokesperson texted back - confirm; no citizenship question on the 2020 census. And I just have a statement here from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau. And he says, I quote, "my focus and that of the bureau and the entire department is to conduct a complete and accurate census." Although, he says that he strongly disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling regarding blocking the citizenship question from being added.
And to remind everyone, this is a question that asks, is this person a citizen of the United States? The deadline to start printing was yesterday, so this is a very last-minute decision here. And just for context, just yesterday, President Trump said this was a very important question to be added to census forms.
KELLY: And just for a little more context, remind us why this particular question was so controversial.
WANG: Well, this is a kind of question that the Census Bureau has long known to be a very sensitive question - a question that is likely to discourage some non-citizens and some citizens from participating in the census. And that is a big deal because the Constitution requires a head count of every person living in the country, regardless of citizenship status, regardless of immigration status. So this is a question that researchers have found that would undermine those efforts to do an accurate count of every person living in the country.
This is also a question that Census Bureau researchers have found would not produce the most accurate information about citizenship; that if the Trump administration wanted to know exactly how many U.S. citizens there are living in the U.S., adding this question was not the way to do it. And instead, it's compiling existing government records from various federal agencies. And the bureau has done just that. And that's a question I have now. What exactly will the Trump administration do with those existing government records about citizenship?
KELLY: Right - an important reminder that if the Trump administration still wants to learn the answer to this question, there are other ways to collect that information. I - now that this question is not going to be on the census, what - where does that leave the census? What does it mean going forward?
WANG: Well, I imagine there's a big sigh of relief at the Census Bureau because there were a lot of looming questions these past 24, 48 hours, where it was very unclear whether or not the forms would include a citizenship question - something that essentially - Census Bureau researchers have essentially described it - you know, this would be throwing a bomb in the room. This is a longtime, big government program that had - years had been spent to prepare for this, and this would have derailed preparations possibly. You know, President Trump was saying that he wanted to delay the census in order to get this question on this form.
KELLY: And I'm curious. Given how controversial this has been, how much coverage there has been - we don't usually have a full-time census correspondent, (laughter) but that's, more or less, what you've been these last few months. How might this affect whether people respond to the census? - you know, people deciding to participate.
WANG: You know, there's a lot of concern amongst advocacy groups that this - all this focus on the citizenship question has essentially maybe tainted the well; that there's a close association between the census and a citizenship question. And the concern is that many immigrant groups and communities of color may not participate. And that may lead to an undercount in 2020.
KELLY: The concern that they are spooked no matter how this has ultimately shake out - NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, reporting there from New York.
Thank you very much.
WANG: You're welcome.
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