WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Friday that he didn't retreat when he abandoned his effort to insert a citizenship question into next year's census and insisted his fallback will prove a more accurate option.
"Not only didn't I back down, I backed up because anybody else would have given this up a long time ago," Trump told reporters Friday, one day after directing federal agencies to try to compile the citizenship information using existing databases.
Also Friday, Trump said nationwide raids to arrest and deport migrants in the country illegally would begin Sunday in a sweep that immigration officials said could roll out over days, echoing a similar threat last month that was never carried out.
The Supreme Court had blocked Trump's effort to include the citizenship question by disputing his administration's rationale for demanding that census respondents declare whether they were citizens.
Trump had said last week that he was "very seriously" considering an executive order to try to force the question. But the government has begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it, and such a move would likely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.
The president said he would sign an executive order directing every federal department and agency to provide the Commerce Department with all records pertaining to the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.
"The printing is started, and we're already finding out who the citizens are and who they're not, and I think more accurately," Trump claimed on Friday.
Late Thursday, Justice Department lawyers sent a copy of the executive order to the judge presiding over a challenge to the citizenship question in Manhattan federal court, saying they will confer with lawyers for the plaintiffs to see how to proceed in the case.
Trump's order said the Supreme Court "has now made it impossible, as a practical matter, to include a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire."
"After examining every possible alternative, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Commerce have informed me that the logistics and timing for carrying out the census, combined with delays from continuing litigation, leave no practical mechanism for including the question on the 2020 decennial census," Trump said.
Trump's efforts to add the question on the census had drawn backlash from critics who complained that it would discourage participation, not only by people living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating would expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project and the lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case, celebrated Thursday's announcement by the president, saying: "Trump's attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper."
Trump said his order would apply to every agency, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The Census Bureau already has access to Social Security, food stamp and federal prison records, all of which contain citizenship information.
Trump, citing Census Bureau projections, predicted that using previously available records, the administration could determine the citizenship of 90% of the population "or more."
"Ultimately this will allow us to have a more complete count of citizens than through asking the single question alone," he contended.
But it is still unclear what Trump intends to do with the citizenship information.
Federal law prohibits the use of census information to identify individuals, though that restriction has been breached in the past.
The order also instructs the commerce secretary to consider beginning the process of including the question on the 2030 census count.
Civil-rights groups said the president's efforts had already sown fear and discord in vulnerable communities, making the task of an accurate count even harder.
"The damage has already been done," said Lizette Escobedo of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday morning that the plans for the nationwide raids were "nothing to be secret about."
"It starts on Sunday, and they're going to take people out and they're going to bring them back to their countries," the president said. "Or they're going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from."
The raids have been planned and debated in the Department of Homeland Security for about a month. Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement initially planned to send agents into communities across the United States on the same day as a coordinated show of force.
But two people familiar with the operation said the agency changed gears after news reports tipped off migrant communities about the raids.
Raids may begin in some cities Sunday, but local Immigration and Customs Enforcement branches could start them either sooner or later over the next few days, officials said.
The planned sweep is expected to take place in nearly a dozen cities. It had been scheduled for late June, but after opposition from Democratic lawmakers, migrant advocates and homeland security officials, the president postponed it days before it was set to take place.
Democratic-led state and local governments have already been mobilizing in opposition of the raids. On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago announced that she had permanently banned Immigration and Customs Enforcement from gaining access to the city Police Department's digital records, and said Chicago police would not in any way assist with the immigration sweep.
"The threat of raids has forced our residents to hide in the shadows, living in constant fear and not going to school or work," she said at a news conference. "I've personally spoken with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] leadership in Chicago and voiced my strong objection to any raids and the things that are happening that are terrorizing and traumatizing our community."
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California posted a video Thursday on Twitter advising migrants living in California on how to avoid arrest.
"We have your back," he said in the video. "I just want to say to folks who are anxious about a knock on the door, no abras la puerta. You don't have to open the door. Without a warrant, you don't have to open the door."
Four nonprofit groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in New York seeking a court order blocking the operation. In the lawsuit, the lawyers claim that many of the migrants failed to appear for their scheduled appearances in immigration court because border agency officials failed to inform them of their court dates.
The Trump administration has argued that the raids are imperative to controlling a humanitarian crisis on the southwestern border.
Separately, the administration on Friday asked the Supreme Court to lift a freeze on Pentagon money it wants to use to build sections of a border wall with Mexico.
Two lower courts have ruled against the Trump administration in a lawsuit over the funding. Last week, a divided three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco kept in place a lower-court ruling preventing the government from tapping Defense Department counterdrug money to build high-priority sections of wall in Arizona, California and New Mexico.
At issue in the case before the Supreme Court is $2.5 billion in Defense Department funds, which the administration says will be used to construct more than 100 miles of fencing. The lawsuit challenging the use of those funds was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition.
Late Friday, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan gave the groups until the afternoon of July 19 to respond in writing to the Trump administration's filing.
The administration says the trial judge who initially heard the case and put a freeze on the funds was wrong and that the groups bringing the lawsuit don't have a right to sue.
Information for this article was contributed by Jill Colvin, Mark Sherman, Zeke Miller, Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking, Larry Neumeister, Geoff Mulvihill and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times.
A Section on 07/13/2019
Print Headline: Trump: Didn't throw in towel on tallying citizens