Washington: The Trump administration has dropped a controversial plan to add a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census, marking a major victory for civil rights groups who argued that such a move would deter immigrants from taking part in the once-a-decade population count.
The Trump administration's decision comes just days after the Supreme Court blocked efforts to include the question, ruling that the government's justification seemed "contrived". The White House argued it would bolster protections for minority voters.
But opponents said it would deter immigrant households from taking part in the population count. They said that the citizenship question, which has not been included since 1950, would drive many immigrants to avoid answering out of fear of being caught up in Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who originally directed the Census Bureau to add the question, said in a statement that he was moving ahead with printing the 2020 census despite his disagreement with the court's ruling last week. "I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 Census," Ross said.
"The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census," he said. Last week, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the citizenship question and said the government had not provided adequate justification for it.
President Donald Trump initially touted the idea of delaying the census to allow time to provide new legal arguments. In a series of later tweets, President Trump said it was "a very sad time for America".
"A very sad time for America when the Supreme Court of the United States won't allow a question of "Is this person a Citizen of the United States?" to be asked on the #2020 Census! Going on for a long time," he tweeted.
The move was welcomed by the opposition Democratic party leaders. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, termed the decision as a welcoming development for the country's democracy.
"House Democrats will be vigilant to ensure a full, fair and accurate Census.We will continue to advance strong legislation to secure critical funding to guarantee maximum participation and inclusion so that every person in every community is counted," she said.
Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer said the exclusion of citizenship question from the census is a victory for the US democracy and for fair representation of all communities in this country.
"The Trump administration's politically-motivated efforts to undermine the Constitution in this instance were so reprehensible that even the conservative Supreme Court couldn't let them get away with it. Democrats in Congress will be watching the Trump administration like a hawk to ensure there is no wrong-doing throughout this process and that every single person is counted," he said.
Indian-American Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, said that this is a victory for all those who fought so hard against this partisan ploy to weaponise the census and rig American democracy.
"Now we double down on the work to ensure a fair and accurate count. We remain particularly committed to ensuring that hard-to-count communities, especially those understandably fearful of this administration's motives, take part in the next census," she said.
Gupta also said the census without the controversial citizenship question will ensure everyone is counted. "Through our census counts campaign, and alongside our allies, we will stay focused on making sure everyone is counted so that all of our country's communities get the representation and resources they deserve," Gupta said.
Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House committee on Oversight and Reform, said that he felt encouraged that administration officials dropped President Trump's unconstitutional plan to postpone the Census just because he lost the Supreme Court case.
"The Trump Administration put our country through more than a year of wasted time and squandered resources -- all in the service of an illegal attempt to add a discriminatory question based on a pretext," he said.
Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said President Trump tried to politicise the upcoming Census 2020 in a naked effort to instill fear in immigrants and communities of colour.
"But the Supreme Court of the US agreed with us, and today the Trump administration admitted defeat by removing this ridiculous citizenship question," he said.
-By Lalit K Jha