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2020 Census Forms Will Be Printed Without Citizenship Question


After a lengthy legal fight, the Trump administration has started printing the 2020 U.S. census, but they are printing it without a question about citizenship. The move marked what appears to be the end of a more than yearlong court battle. But last night, President Trump tweeted that he has asked the Justice and Commerce Departments to, quote, "do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions to a successful conclusion." So what does that mean? NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census related and is with us from our studios in New York to explain.

Hi, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So based on what the president tweeted last night, is the fight over this citizenship question actually over?

WANG: It's unclear, but what we know is, as you said, printing has started for the 2020 census paper forms without this question - is this person a citizen of United States? You know, I asked a Justice Department spokesperson yesterday via text, you know, is this the final decision of the Trump administration? I got a text back saying, confirm, no question on 2020 census. And what I'm watching for now is a federal judge in Maryland has ordered the Trump administration to enter into a formal agreement by Monday that confirms formally on paper that the administration is no longer pursuing a citizenship question.

MARTIN: So that's still in the offing. Can you just take a step back, Hansi, because there have been so many developments that got us to this point? Remind us of the journey.

WANG: Well, it's really been a really interesting few days since the Supreme Court ruled last week to essentially block this question from being added to the 2020 census. The majority of the Supreme Court found that the reason the Trump administration gave for adding this question - to better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act - a majority of the justices agreed that this, quote, "seems to have been contrived," this reasoning. And the Trump administration was really running up against the clock to try to come up with another reason and try to make another case in court because the printing deadline to start the printing of 2020 census forms was Monday. And delaying that would have caused major disruptions to next year's constitutionally mandated head count of every person living in the country.

MARTIN: Right. So civil rights advocates and others were concerned - right? - that the citizenship question was somehow going to suppress participation in the census, that people wouldn't respond if this question was on there. Are they celebrating now this decision?

WANG: Right now, they are calling this a victory. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, his office was the first to file a lawsuit last year against this question. And essentially yesterday, he called for everyone to start moving on from the citizenship question issue and to think more broadly about the census. Let's listen to what he said.

XAVIER BECERRA: In order to get the funding our communities need, to get the government the needed resources so that we know how big our communities are and where people are located, we need to participate.

WANG: And that's really the challenge here for community groups, advocacy groups, to try to shift the focus away from the citizenship question, especially amongst immigrant communities, communities of color that have been really worried about this question and to more broadly the census and to get people to start thinking about participating. The big question is, will the president keep on tweeting about the citizenship question?

MARTIN: Right. So you mentioned that, you know, this court in Maryland wants the president to sign a piece paper, essentially, the administration to admit that they're not going to pursue any more legal recourse here. Beyond that, what are the next steps?

WANG: You know, I'm watching to see what happens to citizenship records that the Census Bureau's been compiling from various federal agencies as part of the citizenship question request. And the Census Bureau says it's ready to release that information, which would have been more accurate than responses collected from a citizenship question. It just needs an OK from the commerce secretary, who oversees the Census Bureau.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang; Hansi, we appreciate it.

Thank you so much.

WANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.