Hansi Lo Wang, NPR, October 16, 2019
The Census Bureau is turning to existing government records, such as state driver’s licenses, to try to fill in gaps in the incomplete responses it collects from its survey.
The Census Bureau is asking states to voluntarily share driver’s license records as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to produce detailed data about the U.S. citizenship status of every person living in the country.
According to a statement the bureau released Tuesday, the requests are in response to an executive order President Trump issued in July after courts blocked his administration from adding a citizenship question to 2020 census forms.
That order essentially repackages a 2018 directive from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the bureau and has ordered the compiling of records from other federal agencies and state governments.
“When the Census Bureau receives the records, they are stripped of all personal identifiable information and are used for statistical purposes only,” the bureau said in its statement.
Last month, the president of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, Anne Ferro, sent an email to the group’s members to inform them that the bureau wants monthly data about more than just citizenship information. It has also requested information about a license or identification card holder’s name, address, date of birth, sex, race and eye color.
Faced with growing public reluctance to participate in its surveys, the bureau has turned to existing government records to try to fill in gaps in the incomplete responses it collects. Many state agencies currently share with the bureau records about food assistance programs, for example, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
Some states, such as Maine, are refusing to cooperate with the bureau.
The administration — which initially said it wanted citizenship question responses to better protect the voting rights of racial and language minorities — says it now wants to produce citizenship information for states to use when redrawing voting districts after the 2020 census. The bureau recently confirmed, however, that not a single state official told the agency that there was a need to include citizenship information in redistricting data.
Last month, Latinx community groups in Texas and Arizona filed a federal lawsuit against the administration to block it from using government records to produce citizenship information.
The groups, represented by attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, argue that efforts to generate this citizenship data are part of a conspiracy to prevent the fair political representation of Latinx communities, noncitizens and other immigrants.