President Trump dropped his bid Thursday to add a citizenship question on the census — a “complete defeat” for the Trump administration, immigration advocates claimed.

But Trump said he’s ordering every federal department and agency to try to compile the information using existing databases, to provide the Commerce Department with an accurate number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.

“It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and noncitizens that make up the United States’ population,” Trump said at a Rose Garden announcement. He insisted he was “not backing down.”

Trump had been expected to issue an executive order requiring the citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. census after the Supreme Court blocked it. His reversal Thursday came as the government had already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it.

Trump said Thursday that he would instead sign an executive order directing agencies to turn records over to the Commerce Department.

Critics have claimed that including the citizenship question on the census would discourage participation, not only by those living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating will expose noncitizen family members.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in Boston said Trump abandoning his bid for the question was a “complete defeat.”

“They are scrambling for morsels and crumbs of information,” Espinoza-Madrigal said in a statement. “Ultimately, this is a complete distraction and colossal waste of scarce taxpayer dollars. Federal agencies and their employees should not be conscripted into the Trump Administration’s campaign of terror against immigrant communities.”

But Jessica Vaughan of the Center for immigration Studies said it’s very important for the government to collect information on citizenship.

“We should have a more precise understanding of our population,” she said. “Not only does it have implications for political districts, but also it’s important for immigration agencies to know where people live and who’s eligible for naturalization.”

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin said he didn’t want to “waste any more time on this nonsense that he (Trump) has spewed for months and months and months.”

“The time is for us to get to work to have an accurate count. That’s what we need,” Galvin said. “An accurate count to protect Massachusetts, to protect the citizens who are here, and to make sure we get our fair share.”

He added that he’s concerned people will remain fearful about answering the census.

“I would reassure them that the information garnered by the Commerce Department cannot be used for any other purpose,” Galvin said.

— Herald wire services contributed to this report.


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