Census Bureau Tries End-Around for Citizenship Data

(CN) — Responding to reports that the U.S. Census Bureau is requesting drivers’ license records to verify whether those who take the survey in 2020 are citizens, experts say the predicted drop in participation from immigrants will be the same as if the Supreme Court had not barred the citizenship question in June.

“The result is going to be fairly similar to including the citizen question directly on the census form,” Jennifer Lee, an associate professor of law at Temple University, said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s really just an act that’s going to instill a lot of fear.”

Demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court on June 27, 2019, as the justices finish the term with key decisions on gerrymandering and a census case involving an attempt by the Trump administration to ask everyone about their citizenship status in the 2020 census. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As reported this morning by The Associated Press, the Trump administration has taken a two-pronged approach to the decennial population count in the wake of Supreme Court defeat. First, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has confirmed that most, if not all, states recently received requests for information including citizenship status, race, birthdates and addresses.

Second, the bureau published a request in the Federal Register last month for state records on individual recipients of public-assistance programs.

Results from the states are expected to vary. Illinois has already denied the request, while Florida is still considering its options.

When the Commerce Department unveiled its plan to include a citizenship question on the census, New York brought a challenge that skewered the move as a ploy to hurt Democratic politics for decades. Census counts are used to determine how many congressional seats states get, how state legislative districts are drawn and how hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding are allocated.

Noncitizens matter for these counts, and expert testimony in the New York trial showed that the chilling effect such a question would have on immigrants and people of color would distort the view of diverse cities, such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, which tend to vote Democratic.

To understand why immigrants may be spooked by the bureau’s collection of the data using driver’s license information, Lee said it is important to consider the Trump administration’s actions over the last few years concerning immigration reform, as well as the fact that many immigrant families are mixed-status.

“If this were the sole act that the government was doing, that would be one thing,” Lee said. “You have to put it into context with everything else that’s happening with this administration.”

In addition to separating immigrant parents from their children at the border and jailing them separately, the Trump administration has faced criticism for rounding up immigrants for deportation as they appear for perfunctory administrative obligations, including green card marriage interviews and visits to state court.

“I think collectively the sense from immigrant communities is that they are under attack in various ways,” Lee said. “Now, they are also subject to attack in the kind of information that the government is trying to collect about people.”

The Population Reference Bureau, a watchdog group that analyzes demographic data, estimated last year that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census would put nearly 45 million people at greater risk of not being counted.

Though the U.S. Department of Commerce has not responded to an email seeking comment, the Census Bureau told the AP that it began collecting state administrative records — like birthdates, addresses, race, Hispanic origin and citizenship status — in 2016 to help with the 2020 census and ongoing surveys, but did not clarify its request for drivers’ license information.

“Responses to all Census Bureau surveys and administrative records obtained by the Census Bureau are safe, secure and protected by law,” the bureau said.

The 2020 census begins on April 1, 2020.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice are groups that filed suit last month when President Donald Trump issued an executive order to obtain citizenship records from states in the face of Supreme Court defeat.

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Editor’s note:

In a statement Tuesday, the Census Bureau said it asked states to send driver’s license records for the 2020 survey because of the president’s executive order. It also maintained that it has been using state administrative records to supplement or improve its quality and coverage since the early 2000s.

“When the Census Bureau receives the records, they are stripped of all personal identifiable information and are used for statistical purposes only while remaining strictly protected under Title 13,” the bureau said. “By law, the Census Bureau does not share any data protected under Title 13 with the states or share personally identifiable information with any government or law enforcement agencies.”

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