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US President Donald Trump pauses after delivering remarks on citizenship and the census in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Washington: US President Donald Trump backed down Thursday on a push to force a controversial question on citizenship onto the 2020 census following a backlash by civil rights campaigners.

Critics said the administration wanted to add the question to suppress participation by immigrant communities in the once-a-decade survey that helps officials determine where to allocate federal resources.

“We are pursuing a new option to ensure a complete and timely count of the non-citizen population,” the president told a news conference at the White House.

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court seemingly ended a legal and political battle over the issue, concluding that the Trump administration’s stated reasons for including the question were “contrived” and blocking the move.

Stung by the conservative-majority high court’s 5-4 decision, Trump raised the possibility of forcing the issue with an executive order, or even postponing the census.

The stakes are immense: the census helps determine the disbursement of $675 billion in federal subsidies and the number of seats in the US House of Representatives allocated to each state.

A question on citizenship, which was dropped more than 60 years ago, could stop between 1.6 and 6.5 million immigrants from participating or answering truthfully, according to census officials.

Immigrants living in the country illegally would especially be reticent, out of fear that they would be identified for deportation.

As he announced the U-turn, Trump said he would sign an executive order requiring federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department with immigration information from their existing databases.

“It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and non-citizens that make up the US population. Imperative,” he said.