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Stephen Bannon pushed adding citizenship to census, feds admit

October 11, 2018

Then-Trump political adviser Stephen K. Bannon was instrumental in pushing the Census Bureau to ask about citizenship on the full 2020 count, the government admitted in court papers Thursday, further complicating the administration’s defense of the controversial question.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross now says it was Mr. Bannon who called him in the spring of 2017 to ask him to talk to Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state and a major figure in conservatives’ push for stricter enforcement of immigration laws, about adding a citizenship question to the next decennial count.

The revelation was made in a brief made public by the New York Immigration Coalition, which has sued to try to block the citizenship question.

Opponents said the revelation of Mr. Bannon’s involvement is more evidence the question was added not for legitimate government purposes, but rather to further political aims of President Trump.

“It’s obvious that the administration hates immigrants and wants to deny big, blue states federal resources and political power by undercounting them in the census,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the coalition. “This is a perversion of the Constitution for partisan gain and a direct attack on anyone who doesn’t meet Steve Bannon’s warped approval.”

Mr. Bannon was serving as Mr. Trump’s political strategist in the White House at the time he connected Mr. Kobach and Mr. Ross. He was ousted in the summer of 2017.

Emails produced in the case had previously hinted at the Bannon contact, but Thursday’s court filing was a government confirmation.

It turns out the chain of communications is important to the citizenship question’s chances of surviving legal scrutiny.

A federal judge has ruled that the citizenship question isn’t inherently illegal, but said there are enough questions surrounding the circumstances under which it was added that could make its inclusion illegal. The judge has allowed the coalition’s lawsuit against the census, as well as one filed by the state of New York, to proceed.

The judge has also ordered Mr. Ross and another top government official sit for depositions to explain their roles in the decision-making.

Mr. Ross had originally said he added the question after a request from the Justice Department, which in a December 2017 letter said having citizenship information would make it easier to suss out voting rights violations.

But the new revelations show top political officials were pushing the matter well before that Justice Department request.

The full decennial census asked about citizenship up through 1950, but the question was deleted from the main survey and relegated to a subset of surveys, where it remains as of now.

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