Washington, July 12 (IANS) US President Donald Trump has announced that his administration was "not backing down" in the fight to know how many citizens and non-citizens were in America, 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, Xinhua news agency reported.
In the days before Trump's Thursday's announcement, rumours swirled in the press that Trump would fight the Supreme Court's decision.
In a speech at the White House, Trump said due to litigation and opposition, the US 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 US. The departments would then have to hand over all information to the US 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 US, 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 US, which is "vital" to forming policy, the President said.
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. 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 US 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.
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 US as previously thought -- the number could be as high as 22 million. Most are of Latin American origin.
Controversy about the citizenship question was fuelled by the emergence of evidence that findings from a now-dead Republican expert on legislative redistricting had a major impact on the administration's policy deliberations, Efe news reported.
The study by Thomas Hofeller was among some 75,000 documents found on a computer hard drive obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Using "citizen voting age" population as the redistricting population base would be "advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites", Hofeller wrote.
The hard drive was discovered by the expert's daughter, Stephanie Hofeller Lizon, after his death in August 2018.
The Washington Post reported that Lizon also found documents that Hofeller shared his conclusions with Christa Jones, chief of staff to Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham.
Trump administration officials denied having been influenced by Hofeller's work.