by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, July 11 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump announced Thursday that his administration is "not backing down" in the fight to know how many citizens and non-citizens are in the United States, at a time when the country is increasingly divided over the immigration issue.
Previously, the White House had fought to include a question on citizenship in the 2020 census, which was subsequently blocked by the Supreme Court. In the days before Thursday's announcement, rumors swirled in the press that Trump would fight the Supreme Court's decision.
In a speech at the White House on Thursday, Trump said due to litigation and opposition, the U.S. administration would not push for the inclusion of the question in the decennial census.
However, he issued an executive order to have every government department collect data on how many citizens and non-citizens are living inside the United States. The departments would then have to hand over all information to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
By issuing his executive order, Trump effectively circumvented the Supreme Court to find an alternative way to find out how many illegal migrants are living in the United States, instead of challenging the decision of the nation's highest court.
"We will defend the right of the American people to know" how many citizens are in the United States, which is "vital" to forming policy, the president said Thursday from the White House.
We must know "how many illegal aliens" are in the United States, he said. "We're aiming to count everyone," he added.
Trump's executive order came at a time when the immigration issue is of crucial importance to his base. Rightly or wrongly, many Trump supporters believe illegal migrants take working class jobs, depress wages, and bring drugs and crime over the border.
Democrats had pushed against including the citizenship question in the census, with House leader Nancy Pelosi saying Democrats would challenge the White House if it tried to include the citizenship question.
Before Thursday's decision, experts argued that many immigrants would not likely answer such a question, and that could reduce population counts in the census that are utilized to figure out how many seats in Congress each state is given.
Counts from the census, which also include those living in the United States illegally, are used to determine how many seats to allocate in the House of Representatives. The Census Bureau has said requiring citizenship data would make illegal migrants not want to participate in the census. That would shift power and funds away from Democrat-headed cities with large populations of immigrants.
"Trump realized he faced an uphill legal battle that could drag out for a while. That effectively made it impossible to insist on a citizenship question because the forms are being printed right away," Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell Wet told Xinhua.
Republican Strategist and TV news personality Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that "we've had the citizenship question in one form or another on the census for the last 200 years. Basically we had it from 1820 to 1950 on every census. And then from 1950 to 2000 on the long form."
"I just don't understand why people wouldn't want to know who's in this country. Particularly when it comes down to electoral votes, congressional representation and federal funding to the states (taxpayer funding)," O'Connell said.
While U.S. media usually reports that there are around 10 million migrants living illegally in the United States, O'Connell casts doubt on those figures, saying "what they (Democrats) don't want people to know is hard data on exactly how many illegal immigrants could possibly be in this country."
"Since the year 2000, they've been saying about 10 million. Well, we know that's impossible," O'Connell said.
A study by Yale University from last year found that there may be as many as twice the number of migrants living illegally in the United States as previously thought -- the number could be as high as 22 million. Most are of Latin American origin.