New revelations about a citizenship question the Trump administration added to the 2020 census raise the possibility it was motivated by a desire to undercut immigrants’ political power.
In a court filing Thursday, the Justice Department admitted that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross consulted former White House adviser Stephen Bannon and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach before adding the census question. Bannon and Kobach both favor severely restricting immigration.
“Secretary Ross recalls that Steve Bannon called Secretary Ross in the spring of 2017 to ask Secretary Ross if he would be willing to speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about Secretary Kobach’s ideas about a possible citizenship question on the decennial census,” the filing states.
Bannon and Kobach’s involvement had already been established prior to Thursday’s filing — emails released as part of the case in June showed not only that the two were involved, but that Kobach pitched the idea in the first place. Still, Thursday’s filing is the first time the government has admitted that the two famously hardline figures were part of Ross’ decision making.
Bannon and Kobach’s involvement in the decision also appears to contradict a previous court filing in the case, which said Ross “cannot confirm” that he spoke with Bannon about the citizenship question. It also seems to contradict sworn testimony Ross gave before the House Appropriations Committee in March.
“Has the president or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding the citizenship question?” Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) asked Ross, according to NPR.
“I am not aware of any such,” Ross replied.
In the same hearing, Ross testified that the Census Bureau was “responding solely to the Department of Justice’s request” when it added the citizenship question — not pressure from President Donald Trump or others in the White House.
The Justice Department’s latest court filing undercuts both its previous filings in the case and Ross’ sworn testimony to Congress.
But there’s more at stake than Ross’ candor. Proponents of the question say the Justice Department needs information on citizenship status in order to direct resources for Voting Rights Act enforcement.
Critics, on the other hand, fear the question is a cynical ploy to scare non-citizens, documented and undocumented, from responding to the census altogether. That could mean the census undercounts immigrants, which in turn would result in fewer members of Congress and fewer federal dollars for heavily immigrant areas that tend to vote Democratic.
In other words, critics worry the question is aimed at weakening Democratic votes.
Several lawsuits are winding their way through the courts to stop the question. Wednesday’s court filing came in a case brought by the New York Attorney General’s office in the Southern District of New York.