Trump backs away from citizenship question on Census

President Donald Trump is backing away from plans to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, quieting a controversy that has raged while outreach groups are hitting Minnesota streets urging people to participate in the count.

The president's decision, announced Thursday, avoids a direct conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court, which last month blocked Trump's previous attempt to include a citizenship question on the Census.

Trump said a Census question would've been endlessly litigated. Instead, he ordered federal agencies to share more information with each other about citizens and noncitizens. 

"These delays would've prevented us from completing the Census on time," Trump said. "It's deeply regrettable, but it will not stop us from collecting the needed information and, I think, in even greater detail and more accurately."

The decision to not include a citizenship question was met with relief by state officials and Census outreach groups in Minnesota, who have been at work for months urging people to fill out the 2020 forms.

"Research suggests that the addition of this question would have lowered response rates and data quality," said Susan Bower, the state demographer. "There is a lot at stake with the 2020 Census, and an accurate census count benefits all of us. The census is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for communities to claim their fair share of power and resources, and a depressed-count will only further perpetuate inequities."

Federal law bans the Census Bureau from sharing personal information with other government agencies or courts. The protections, contained under Title 13 of the U.S. code, said the data is to be used for statistical purposes and is not to be used against respondents.

Monica Hurtado, a community organizer for Voices for Regional Justice, and Linda Her, executive director of the Asian American Organizing Project, said the prospect of a citizenship question had nevertheless led to fears within immigrant communities.

Hurtado, who is Colombian, said she initially didn't want to participate in Census outreach but changed her mind after learning about the protections for people in her community.

"The fear is real, but the importance and the implications of not filling out the Census are also real," she said in an interview inside her Minneapolis office. "The Census is to count people, not to police people."

Her, whose group does phone banking and door knocking three to four times a week around the seven-county Metro area, said people generally understand that the Census count affects Minnesota's federal funding and the size of its delegation in Congress.

But they still have questions about how their information will be used, she said.

"We shouldn't be afraid," she said. "We should continue to work together and deliver a message that we all should be counted, because this will impact the state, the community we live in."

Earlier in the week, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters that Minnesotans who are in the U.S. illegally should not fear the Census.

Minnesota will count every person, he said.

"There's a lot of folks here, whether they're holding green cards or waiting to adjudicate their status, the Census was always meant to count you no matter what," Walz said. "It was not meant to be used as a tool of deportation."

The Census Bureau is scheduled to mail its initial postcards in mid-March. The agency intends to get the majority of people to fill out their forms online in 2020.