Capitol Alert

Trump administration backs off citizenship question. What that means for California

The Trump administration is preparing to print the 2020 census without a citizenship question and ending its battle in court to place a question about immigration status in the once-a-decade count.

Justice Department attorneys revealed the administration’s plan on Tuesday in an email to lawyers who’d challenged President Donald Trump’s effort to ask a citizenship question on the full census.

“We can confirm that the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process,” a U.S. Department of Justice attorney wrote in an email to plaintiffs in the case.

The Justice Department also confirmed to The Sacramento Bee that the administration would not use a citizenship question in the census.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision last week that the Trump administration could not incorporate a citizenship question in the 2020 census, finding that its explanation for why it wanted to include the question appeared to be “contrived.”

The administration had claimed it wanted to use the citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but a majority of the court found that the Department of Commerce developed that justification well after deciding to include the question.

The ruling gave the administration an opportunity to argue the case again before a lower court and Trump last week said he’d consider delaying the census to buy more time for arguments.

The Justice Department’s announcement means the census is moving forward on schedule without the question.

The Supreme Court’s decision centered on a challenge to the Trump administration from the state of New York. California also had sued to block the administration from using a citizenship question in the census, with the state’s Democratic leaders fearing that it would discourage immigrants from participating in the count.

“Today, I think we can say is a sweet victory for 40 million Californians,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a news conference on Tuesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the decision not to add the citizenship question “a defeat for the Trump administration’s relentless attack on our immigrant communities.”

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Despite the Trump administration’s decision not to pursue its legal fight over the citizenship question, California is still at risk of losing billions of dollars in federal funding and a congressional seat if residents decline to participate in the census.

Sarah Bohn, director of research for the Public Policy Institute of California, has tracked hard-to-count communities and believes the state is not out of the woods yet.

“I see this as an important first step to getting the most accurate count, but it is just that: a first step,” Bohn said. “What really needs to happen next is for the Census Bureau and state partners to do all they can do to reach hard-to-count communities. “Many hard-to-count communities would’ve remained hard-to-count, even with the citizenship question.”

She said the most difficult people to reach in California will be those who lack stable, permanent housing, particularly lower-income minority residents, homeless people and young kids.

California has made investments in an effort to boost participation for these groups.

This year’s budget includes a total $87 million for statewide census efforts. This follows $100 million in census outreach included in last year’s budget.

“Everyone needs to be counted,” Newsom said in a statement. “Our message is clear: If you don’t participate, Trump wins.”

Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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