Trump waffles on census citizenship question

U.S. Rep. Garcia calls apparent decision ‘a victory for everyone’ as president grouses on Twitter

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia leads an immigration rally at Chicago’s Federal Plaza earlier this year. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia leads an immigration rally at Chicago’s Federal Plaza earlier this year. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

There will be no citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census, although President Trump persists in sewing confusion on the controversy.

According to The New York Times, Justice Department lawyers made the announcement Tuesday in an email to litigants in a New York lawsuit fighting inclusion of a citizenship question, which critics have said discourages participation in the census by immigrant communities.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, whose Chicago-area district includes Hispanic neighborhoods, greeted the news in a statement, calling the decision “a victory for everyone. Every single person in our democracy counts — and deserves to be counted in the census. Today’s announcement is especially important for communities of color, working-class families, and immigrants. I have been opposed to the citizenship question in the 2020 Census since it was first announced and welcome today’s victory.”

Trump, however, defied his own Justice Department in refusing to let the matter drop. On into the Fourth of July holiday he was tweeting, “We are absolutely moving forward” on the issue.

Critics charge the question on whether a resident is also a U.S. citizen would have intimidated undocumented immigrants and immigrant communities receptive to new U.S. residents, especially as Trump has threatened raids on immigrant communities, specifically mentioning Chicago. They also suggested the data, if available, would have aided in gerrymandering legislative districts to isolate minority communities.

By law, the U.S. Census counts all residents, not just U.S. citizens. Illinois officials have said an undercount could cost the state representation in Congress and federal funding.

The two hot-button issues came to a head at the U.S. Supreme Court last week, when Chief Justice John Roberts issued a pair of contradictory rulings on the same day, allowing gerrymandering, but ruling against including the citizenship question on the census.

Roberts didn’t actually rule the question illegal, but he did write in his opinion that he found the Trump administration’s rationale for including it to be “contrived.”

Trump threatened to delay the 2020 U.S. Census entirely in response, even though it’s mandated every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution. The Justice Department dropped that threat Tuesday with its announcement that the question would not be included, as census documents are already being planned and printed. But Trump was still grousing about the defeat Tuesday night, tweeting it’s “a very sad time for America” when such a question is disallowed on the census — which it has been consistently in the past.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot chimed in Wednesday, saying, “From the moment it was announced, cities, states, immigration advocates, and government leaders across the country recognized the census citizenship question for what it was — a blatant attempt to scare immigrant and refugee communities into the shadows and undercount the cities and metropolitan areas in which they live. Forcing President Trump to stand down was a victory for our democracy and our values, yet despite this important success, our work isn’t over. We will remain vigilant against any attempts to divide our country or intimidate our communities.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also cheered the decision as a victory. Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued the Supreme Court case, issued a statement saying: “In light of the Supreme Court's ruling, the Trump administration had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question. Everyone in America counts in the census, and today's decision means we all will.”

Garcia said it would redouble his efforts to get a fair and accurate count of residents in his district.

“Our fight to count every single person, however, is not over,” he said. “Though the question will not be printed in the 2020 census, the court’s decision left the door open for future attempts to include a citizenship question in a future census.”

Garcia first took issue with the census questionnaire last year while a Cook County commissioner, filing a formal affidavit in that New York lawsuit “expressing concerns about how his constituents would be affected.”