After the Trump administration’s efforts to ram a citizenship question into the 2020 census were rebuffed by the Supreme Court, the White House decided on a different approach to determining the citizenship status of every person residing in the country through the collection of federal and state administrative records. An executive order directed the federal government to compile states’ information on their citizens and in August the U.S. Census Bureau began requesting states’ hand over the data. So far only Nebraska has complied with the federal request, signing a memorandum of understanding for the state DMV to begin handing over data each month on Nebraska state license and ID card holders’ citizenship status, as well as personal information such as addresses, dates of birth, sex, race, and eye color. Nebraska will begin sharing the data in December through the end of 2021.
Other states have proven more reluctant to hand over the data; a survey taken last month by the Associated Press found that the majority of states had not agreed to the federal government’s records request. The American Civil Liberties Union urged states to decline the Census Bureau’s request. “Like the ill-fated citizenship question, this threatens the likelihood of getting a complete count here in Nebraska,” Heather Engdahl, director of Nebraska Counts, told the AP. “An undercount in 2020 means millions lost in infrastructure, health care, education and other important services for our state. The stakes are high, and we will make every effort to ensure all Nebraskans are counted.”
Nebraska state officials said that because the state only provides driver’s licenses and ID cards to residents that can prove they’re legally residing in the U.S., “the citizenship status information being provided to the U.S. Census Bureau does not constitute any additional lawful status information on noncitizens not already held by the federal government.” There are a number of personal details, however, contained in the DMV records beyond citizenship status that the federal government is after.
“The Census Bureau has said that it requested eye color information from state DMVs because that is commonly included in driver’s license records. That information will be used by the bureau’s researchers to help match government records about the same individual,” NPR reports. “Asked by NPR why the bureau has not asked states for other common driver’s license information such as hair color, height and weight, its public information office replied in a written statement: ‘When conducting data linkage activities we look for variables that are consistent across records. Eye color is consistent while hair color, height and weight can change.’”