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Census Bureau Seeks State Data         10/14 06:25

   (AP) -- The U.S. Census Bureau is asking states for drivers' license records 
that typically include citizenship data and has made a new request for 
information on recipients of government assistance after the U.S. Supreme Court 
blocked plans to include a citizenship question in its 2020 population count.

   The two approaches, documented by The Associated Press, alarm civil rights 
activists. They caution that inaccuracies in state motor vehicle records make 
them a poor choice for tracking citizenship, if that is the bureau's goal, and 
they see the requests as an extension of earlier efforts that could chill 
Latino participation in the 2020 Census.

   After the U.S. Supreme Court nixed the plan by President Donald Trump's 
administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the president 
signed an executive order in July requiring the U.S. Commerce Department, which 
oversees the Census Bureau, to compile citizenship information through state 
and federal administrative records. Specifically, it ordered the department to 
increase efforts "to obtain State administrative records concerning 
citizenship."

   The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators told The AP that 
most, if not all, states recently received requests for information including 
citizenship status, race, birthdates and addresses. The association has advised 
members to consult their privacy officers when deciding how to respond.

   "Each state is making their own determination how to respond," association 
spokeswoman Claire Jeffrey said in an email.

   In Illinois, Secretary of State Jesse White denied the request.

   "We, as a general rule, are not comfortable with giving out our data, 
certainly not in such a huge amount. That was the overriding concern," said 
spokesman Dave Drucker.

   Other states are weighing what to do. The Florida Department of Highway 
Safety and Motor Vehicles has received the request but hasn't responded, 
spokeswoman Beth Frady said.

   The request has alarmed Latino advocacy groups. Motor vehicle agency records 
are notoriously inaccurate and "bad at determining when someone is not a 
citizen," said Andrea Senteno, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense 
and Educational Fund, which is challenging Trump's executive order.

   "The Census Bureau usually plans for these types of big changes in their 
operations many, many years in advance, but they don't have enough time right 
now to actually plan and provide clear information to the public about how they 
are going to use these administrative records," Senteno said. "That is because 
they're flying by the seat of their pants right now."

   The bureau is also trying to gather other state records on individual 
recipients of public programs. A new request published last month in the 
Federal Register said the records would be used for the 2020 Census and other 
research, and they are needed to "improve efficiency and accuracy in our data 
collections, and to improve measures of the population and economy."

   While the request doesn't explicitly ask for citizenship information, some 
demographers who work with the bureau on state-level data say the timing makes 
them suspect the request is responsive to the president's executive order.

   "The timing of it, and noticing in the executive order, it's well-stated 
that this is going to be a push directing the Census Bureau to work on 
gathering these state inputs, it would lead me to believe that the two are 
probably connected," said Susan Strate, senior manager of Population Estimates 
Program at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute.

   States already share records on food assistance and other programs to help 
the bureau track traditionally undercounted populations and pinpoint vacant 
houses. The states' administrative records could cover a host of topics, 
including citizenship, said John Thompson, a former Census Bureau director in 
the Obama administration.

   "Here's the confusing thing about it," Thompson said. "They've already been 
reaching out to states. They've got a number of ongoing programs where they 
reach out to states for various data."

   States typically don't do a good job of tracking citizenship information, 
said Kenneth Prewitt, a former Census Bureau director in the Clinton 
administration.

   "People move, divorce, buy homes, pay state taxes, and these behaviors are 
not tied to any citizenship records," Prewitt said.

   In a statement, the Census Bureau said it started requesting state 
administrative records in 2016 to help with the 2020 Census and ongoing 
surveys. The records include birthdates, addresses, race, Hispanic origin and 
citizenship status. The bureau didn't answer why it was requesting drivers' 
license information or why it had made the new request last month for state 
administrative records when it already receives records from states.

   The bureau said the records it receives are stripped of identifiable 
information and used for statistical purposes only.

   "Responses to all Census Bureau surveys and administrative records obtained 
by the Census Bureau are safe, secure and protected by law," its statement said.

   When it comes to the citizenship question, there has been a tension between 
Trump appointees pushing the president's agenda and career Census Bureau 
workers who said adding citizenship to the 2020 questionnaire would have 
reduced participation and made for a less accurate count.

   The department is now casting a wide net for administrative records, and 
bureau officials have said they will decide by the end of March on a 
methodology for tracking citizenship.

   The 2020 Census will determine how many congressional seats each state gets 
and the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding, as 
well as the drawing of state legislative districts. The apportionment of U.S. 
congressional seats is based on states' overall populations, but Trump's 
executive order has raised the possibility that just the citizen population 
could be used for electoral maps.

   Several civil rights organizations challenged Trump's executive order in 
federal court in Maryland last month, claiming the order is "motivated by a 
racially discriminatory scheme to reduce Latino political representation" and 
gives an advantage to white voters at the expense of Latino voters.


(KR)

 
 
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