Trump drops census citizenship question, vows to get data from government

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General Bill Barr to announce his administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump retreated on Thursday from adding a contentious question on citizenship to the 2020 census, but insisted he was not giving up his fight to count how many non-citizens are in the country and ordered government agencies to mine their databases.

Trump’s plan to add the question to the census hit a roadblock two weeks ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against his administration, which had said new data on citizenship would help to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority rights.

The court ruled, in considering the litigation by challengers, that the rationale was “contrived.” Critics of the effort said asking about citizenship in the census would discriminate against racial minorities and was aimed at giving Republicans an unfair advantage in elections by lowering the number of responses from people in areas more likely to vote Democratic.

Trump, a Republican, and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country.

“We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete and accurate count of the non-citizen population, including databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. We have great knowledge in many of our agencies,” Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. “We will leave no stone unturned,” he said.

Trump said he was not reversing course.

“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” he said.

But there could be more legal challenges ahead for the administration because the U.S. Constitution states that every person living in the country should be counted to determine state-by-state representation in Congress and that is done every 10 years in the Census, not by other means.

“We will vigorously challenge any attempt to leverage census data for unconstitutional redistricting methods,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute at the NYU School of Law.

Waldman said his group would also challenge “any administration move to violate the clear and strong rules protecting the privacy of everyone’s responses, including the rules barring the use of personal census data to conduct law or immigration enforcement activities.”

IMMIGRATION POLICIES

Trump, who has made hard-line policies on immigration a feature of his presidency and his campaign for re-election in 2020, said he was ordering every government agency to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens. The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

“That information will be useful for countless purposes, as the president explained in his remarks today,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Barr cited a legal dispute on whether illegal immigrants can be included for determining apportionment of congressional districts. “Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may possibly prove relevant. We will be studying the issue.”

The approach announced by Trump on Thursday was similar to the one proposed by a Census Bureau official to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, according to a memorandum made public by congressional Democrats in 2018. It said the costs of adding a citizenship question to the Census would be high, but using existing administrative records would not.

Opponents called Thursday’s decision a defeat for the administration, but promised they would look closely to determine the legality of Trump’s new plan to compile and use citizenship data outside of the census.

Rights groups in citizenship-question lawsuits in federal courts in New York and Maryland have no plans to abandon the litigation, Sarah Brannon of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, and John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said on a conference call with reporters.

They also see potential for future litigation over the Trump administration’s collection of data, as well as how those data are used in state redistricting.

“We will sue as necessary,” Brannon said.

The Census is also used to distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Shepardson; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu, Makini Brice and Eric Beech in Washington and Andrew Chung and Lauren LaCapra in New York; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)

Republicans want census data on citizenship for redistricting

FILE PHOTO: A community activist holds a sign in Chinese and English at an event to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – John Murante, a conservative Nebraska senator, last year introduced a bill to prevent non-citizens from being counted when the state redraws its voting maps.

He said the effort aimed to ensure each election district contained similar numbers of voters, but opponents argued it intended to undermine the political power of immigrant communities.

Murante’s bill died after its critics pointed out a lack of granular data on where the state’s non-citizens live.

That data may soon be available.

The Trump administration believes its proposed question about citizenship on the 2020 Census will help states that want to draw citizens-only voting districts in the next round of redistricting by providing the first comprehensive data on non-citizens in about 70 years, according to a Reuters review of court and federal register documents and interviews with more than a dozen state lawmakers.

Such a change would provide a new opportunity for Republican-controlled states – those most likely to adopt citizens-only redistricting – to redraw their voting maps in a way that could help their party win more state-level elections.

Currently, state and federal voting districts are drawn to be roughly equal in population, regardless of how many residents can legally vote. That means tallies for district-drawing purposes include non-citizens, such as green-card holders and undocumented immigrants.

Democrats and immigrant rights activists say this system ensures elected leaders represent everyone in their district who depends on public services such as schools and trash pickup, regardless of voting eligibility.

Republicans argue that districts should be the same size so each vote carries the same weight. If one district has far fewer eligible voters than another, each vote there has more influence on election outcomes.

That’s a problem for Republicans because the eligible voters in immigrant-heavy districts tend to support Democrats.

Trump administration officials have been considering the merits of citizens-only redistricting since 2017 – well before announcing their intention in March 2018 to add the citizenship question to the decennial survey, according to court documents filed as part of litigation over the citizenship question.

And in December, the Census Bureau issued a notice in the Federal Register saying that if any states “indicate a need for … citizenship data” to use in redistricting, it would “make a design change” to provide it.

Republican lawmakers in Texas, Arizona, Missouri and Nebraska told Reuters they would consider making use of the citizenship data if it became available.

The tactic is prohibited at the federal level by past U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted the U.S. Constitution as requiring that U.S. House districts be based on total population. But the court, in a 2016 case known as Evenwel v. Abbott, left the door open for state-level districts to use other metrics.

The Commerce Department, which includes the Census Bureau, declined to comment on whether redistricting was part of the motivation for proposing the citizenship question.

James Whitehorne, the chief of the Census Bureau’s Redistricting & Voting Rights Office, called the federal register notice routine. “We’re supposed to provide states with what they identify as needing,” he said.

U.S. voting districts are drawn at the state level, most often by state legislators, giving the party in power control over how the lines are redrawn.

While both Republicans and Democrats frame the debate over citizen-only districts around fairness, demographic experts point out that both sides have a lot at stake politically.

Data from the nonpartisan APM Research Lab showed that 95 of the 100 U.S. congressional districts with the highest foreign-born populations are represented by Democrats. Similar data for state-level seats was not available.

Redrawing such districts with citizen-only populations would give Republicans a better shot by expanding the districts into more conservative areas, said Albert Kauffman, a professor at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio who has studied redistricting and opposes excluding non-citizens.

In Texas, a citizens-only map could strip Latino voters of majorities in two or three state senate seats and six or seven state representative seats, Kauffman said, pointing out that Hispanic voters traditionally lean left.

“Democrats know they would probably lose seats at every level,” Kauffman said.

SUPREME CHALLENGE

Immigrant rights activists and Democratic-led cities and states have sued the Trump administration to prevent it from asking census respondents about their citizenship, and the Supreme Court will decide by June if the question can remain.

Opponents argue the administration aims to use the question to intimidate immigrants out of responding to the census, which would cost their communities political representation and a share of about $800 billion in annual federal aid allocated based on population.

The administration disputes that. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his decision to add the question was aimed at getting the Justice Department the comprehensive citizenship data it needs to better enforce Voting Rights Act provisions that protect minorities from discrimination.

Ross has not publicly commented on how citizenship data might be used in redistricting. But Census records, as well as emails released during the litigation over the citizenship question, showed he was thinking about citizens-only redistricting well before he announced plans to add the question.

In April of 2017, at the behest of former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Ross spoke with former Kansas Secretary of State and noted immigration hawk Kris Kobach, according to the emails. One topic of discussion was “the problem that aliens … are still counted for congressional apportionment,” according to a subsequent email from Kobach to Ross describing their conversation.

The following month, Ross asked Commerce Senior Policy Advisor David Langdon to look into whether non-citizens, including illegal immigrants, are included in voting maps, according to Langdon’s deposition in the litigation over the citizenship question.

Kobach and Langdon did not respond to requests for comment.

ATTRACTING INTEREST

A handful of states will likely request the census data on citizenship if the question survives its legal challenges, state lawmakers and a Republican strategist told Reuters.

Lawmakers and state officials from Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas said in interviews they are considering citizen-only districts. Republicans in Tennessee also voiced support for citizens-only redistricting in court papers filed in the Evenwel Supreme Court case. Reuters reached out to several of the Tennessee lawmakers who signed the court brief, but all declined to comment.

Missouri Representative Dean Plocher, a Republican who sponsored unsuccessful legislation last year to base Missouri’s voting districts on citizen population, said the effort is aimed solely at equalizing the power of all votes in the state. He said he hadn’t considered how such changes might affect his party’s chances in elections.

Nebraska’s Murante – the former senator behind his state’s failed citizens-only redistricting bill and now the state’s treasurer – said he supports citizens-only maps because the state’s constitution requires that “aliens” be excluded from voting districts.

Immigrant rights activists counter that citizens-only districts could be forced to expand in ways that weaken the political influence of immigrant communities.

The effect could be particularly pronounced in places such as south Texas, where immigrants make up more than a quarter of the population, said Juan Hinojosa, a Democratic state senator.

Hinojosa’s district includes areas known as colonias — informal communities of poor, largely Hispanic families. Citizen-only redistricting would make it more likely that anti-immigration Republicans would win elections in the border region, Hinojosa said.

The question of how to count non-citizens in voting districts may end up at the Supreme Court, said Kel Seliger, a Republican Texas state senator, who told Reuters that lawmakers there would explore citizen-only maps.

“You’ve got be careful,” he said, “that the Republican bias doesn’t get us on the wrong side of the Constitution.”

(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Brian Thevenot and Paul Thomasch)

Freed Pakistani Christian needs German passport to leave: lawyer

FILE PHOTO: Saiful Mulook, lawyer for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, at a news conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/File Photo

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The lawyer for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian acquitted of capital blasphemy charges, appealed on Tuesday to Germany to give her whole family citizenship to start a new life in Europe.

Saiful Mulook told a news conference in Frankfurt that Bibi was now free but she and her family needed a passport to leave the country.

Bibi, 53, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 over allegations she made derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

The Supreme Court acquitted her last month.

“The whole world is asking why she’s not coming,” Mulook told reporters. “The answer is first that to leave a country you need a visa or you require a passport of another country.”

“If the German chancellor directs her ambassador to give a passport to her, her husband and her two daughters conferring German nationality, nobody can stop her for one second because she is no longer Pakistani,” he added.

“So far, no government has come forward in such an open and free manner,” he said.

It was unclear why citizenship, rather than a visa, was necessary for her to leave Pakistan, though Mulook said pressure from religious extremists was making it harder for Islamabad to arrange her departure.

She and her family are staying at a safe house in Pakistan, despite offers of asylum from countries including Canada.

Mulook said the status of a friend of Bibi’s husband, who has a wife and five daughters, whom he would like to join them, was a sticking point. Another wife of Bibi’s husband and her three daughters were not seeking to leave Pakistan with Bibi, he added.

German officials have said that they and a number of other countries are in talks with Bibi’s family and the Pakistani government to find a way of rehousing her.

Mulook, who has himself sought refuge in the Netherlands after being threatened for taking on Bibi’s case, said Bibi had no preference as to which country she would travel to for asylum.

The German government had no immediate comment on the request for a passport.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

‘Stateless’ Thai cave boys and coach granted citizenship

FILE PHOTO: Rescue workers at the Tham Luang cave complex in Thailand on, July 10, 2018, the day 12 boys were rescued after nine days trapped in the caves. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Three boys from a soccer team who were rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand last month were granted Thai citizenship on Wednesday, authorities said.

Their 25-year-old coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, also gained citizenship.

Ekapol and 12 boys had gone to explore the Tham Luang caves in Chiang Rai province on June 23, when a rainy-season downpour flooded the cave system and trapped them underground.

They survived for nine days on water dripping from rocks before they were discovered. An international effort to rescue them ended on July 10 when they all were brought out safely.

Three of the boys and Ekapol were considered stateless, even though they were born in Thailand, until local authorities checked their qualifications, including birth certificates, and approved their requests for Thai citizenship.

The four were also given Thai national identification cards on Wednesday.

“They have all the qualifications,” said Somsak Kanakam, chief officer of Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai. “All children born in Thailand must have Thai birth certificates in order to qualify for Thai citizenship.”

Citizenship requests for some twenty other people, most of them children, were also approved, Somsak added.

Many stateless people in Thailand come from areas where national borders have changed, leaving their nationality in question. Some belong to “hill tribes” living in remote areas with limited access to information about nationality procedures, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The cave ordeal highlighted the plight of people from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar living in Thailand who are denied some rights and opportunities because they are not citizens.

More than 486,000 people are registered as stateless, according to official data. Of that number 146,269 are younger than 18 years old.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Larry King)

Children of Iraq’s Kawliya return to school after 14-year break

Children of Iraqi Kawliya group (known as Iraqi gypsies) attend a class at a school in al-Zuhoor village near the southern city of Diwaniya, Iraq April 16, 2018. Picture taken April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

AL-ZUHOOR, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s Kawliya minority, also known as the country’s gypsies, have long been marginalized by society. But in al-Zuhoor, they finally have an elementary school again – nearly 14 years after the village’s only school was ransacked and destroyed at the hands of an Islamic militia.

Known locally as the Gypsies’ Village, Al-Zuhoor is near the city of Diwaniya, 150 km (95 miles) south of Baghdad. Roughly 420 people live in mud houses and reed huts lining unpaved streets.

With no basic services, the village’s primary school and clinic, built by the government of Saddam Hussein, were damaged by an Islamic militia in a mortar attack on the village in late 2003, months after a U.S.-led invasion toppled him from power.

The school was reopened with the help of U.N. children’s fund UNICEF after a campaign started by civilian activists on Facebook called I am a Human Being. It is made of a cluster of caravans provided by UNICEF on Al-Zuhoor’s outskirts.

The school has 27 children aged six to 10 and a teaching staff of a headmaster and two teachers.

Malak Wael, 10, said her family encouraged her to come to school and learn.

Headmaster Qassim Abbas Jassim said the school and the village suffer from a lack of electricity and safe drinking water.

Scorned by many Muslims and barely tolerated by the rest of society, Iraq’s Kawliya live a precarious existence. Lacking education or skills, they form one of the lower rungs of Iraq’s social system, and are not granted Iraqi citizenship.

Manar al-Zubaidi, representative of the I am a Human Being group who lobbied for a year for the construction of the school, urged the government to grant the Kawliya Iraqi nationality to help their children continue with their studies and get jobs.

Under Saddam, the Kawliya had some protection from persecution — partly in exchange for supplying dancers, alcohol and prostitutes, Iraqis say. The safety net disappeared with Saddam’s overthrow, leaving them open to the whims of religious militia groups contemptuous of their freewheeling ways.

The Kawliya speak Arabic and profess belief in Islam. Most originated in India, although a few came from other Middle Eastern countries.

(Writing by Huda Majeed, Editing by William Maclean)

Trump seeks $25 billion for border wall, offers ‘Dreamer’ citizenship

People protest for immigration reform for DACA recipients and a new Dream Act, in Los Angeles, California, U.S.

By Roberta Rampton and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday previewed his outline for an immigration bill that he will promote next week, saying he wants $25 billion to build a border wall and is open to granting citizenship to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Trump said he was optimistic he could come to an agreement with both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress that would appeal to hardliners seeking tougher rules for immigrants while also preventing the roughly 700,000 “Dreamers” from being deported.

“Tell them not to be concerned, ok? Tell them not to worry. We’re going to solve the problem. It’s up to the Democrats, but they (the Dreamers) should not be concerned,” Trump told reporters during an impromptu question-and-answer session at the White House.

Trump campaigned for president in 2016 promising tougher rules for immigration. In September, he announced he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, effective in March – unless Congress came up with a new law.

The program currently protects about 700,000 people, mostly Hispanic young adults, from deportation and provides them work permits.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the lead lawmakers in the immigration negotiations, said Trump’s comments signaled a major breakthrough.

“President Trump’s support for a pathway to citizenship will help us get strong border security measures as we work to modernize a broken immigration system,” Graham said in a statement. “With this strong statement by President Trump, I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration.”

“COULD GO EITHER WAY”

Graham was part of a bipartisan group of three dozen senators who met on Wednesday on Capitol Hill to discuss moving forward on immigration legislation.

After the meeting, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill expressed cautious optimism to reporters about Trump’s framework, saying “that could go either way,” when asked if it will be helpful to lawmakers.

Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, was slated to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday, a senior White House official said.

Trump so far has rejected bipartisan proposals to continue DACA, leading to the standoff between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate that resulted in a three-day government shutdown that ended on Monday.

Congress agreed to extend funding to Feb. 8, but Republicans promised to allow debate on the future of the young illegal immigrants. Senators began meeting to discuss their proposals on Wednesday.

The White House plans on Monday to unveil a framework for immigration legislation that it believes can pass muster with both parties. Trump will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night.

For immigration legislation to be enacted into law, the House of Representatives ultimately would have to pass a bill identical to whatever the Senate approves.

Trump said his proposal would include a request for $25 billion for the border wall, $5 billion for other border security programs, measures to curb family sponsorship of immigrants, and an overhaul of or end to the visa lottery system.

In exchange, he said he wanted to offer the Dreamers protection from deportation and an “incentive” of citizenship, perhaps in 10 to 12 years.

Addressing the status of the Dreamers’ parents, who brought them into America illegally, would be “tricky,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Makini Brice and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

Canadian pastor escaped execution due to foreign citizenship

Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim speaks at the Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga.

TORONTO (Reuters) – A Canadian pastor whom North Korea released this month after two years of imprisonment escaped execution and torture during his captivity because of his nationality, he told CBC News in his first interview since his return.

Hyeon Soo Lim, the pastor from Toronto, said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he was never harmed and that he would not hesitate to go back to North Korea if the country allowed him. A transcript of the interview was posted on the Canadian public broadcaster’s website.

“If I’m just Korean, maybe they kill me,” Lim said. “I’m Canadian so they cannot, because they cannot kill the foreigners.”

Lim, formerly the senior pastor at one of Canada’s largest churches, had disappeared on a mission to North Korea in early 2015. He was sentenced to hard labor for life in December 2015 on charges of attempting to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.

He said North Korea treated him well despite forcing him to dig holes and break coal by hand all day in a labor camp.

Lim told CBC News that he was “coached and coerced” into confessing that he traveled under the guise of humanitarian work as part of a “subversive plot” to overthrow the government and set up a religious state.

North Korea let him go on humanitarian grounds. The announcement came during heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, although authorities have not said there was any connection between his release and efforts to defuse the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Lim said he felt no anger at the Kim Jong Un regime for sentencing him to prison.

“No, I thanked North Korea,” he said. “I forgive them.”

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)