politics

Ahead Of Supreme Court Decision, Census Bureau Quietly Seeks Citizenship Data

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The Census Bureau is quietly seeking information on the legal status of millions of immigrants in the United States. According to the AP, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would share personal data about noncitizens, including their immigration status, to the Census Bureau. The pending agreement between both agencies started since as earliest as this January. While the move is unprecedented, it is legal for the DHS to share the data if “it fits with a certain set of defined exceptions.” The news comes as the Supreme Court decides next month whether the Trump administration can ask people if they are citizens on the 2020 Census.

The pending agreement would give the bureau vital information about millions of immigrants in the country including social security numbers and addresses.

The DHS data that would be given to the Census Bureau would include names, addresses, birth dates and places, Social Security numbers and registration numbers. The AP reports that the data the bureau would receive would be more accurate than the information collected by the census every 10 years.

The proposed move raises some questions as to what the Trump administration will do with the data. It’s also raised concerns among privacy and immigration activists that argue it will be misused and would increase fears among noncitizens and legal immigrants. Some say the data can be used to build a database for legal cases and the deportation of immigrants.

Jessica Collins, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the AP that while no agreement is finalized, the information would not be used for law enforcement purposes.

“The information is protected and safeguarded under applicable laws and will not be used for adjudicative or law enforcement purposes.” Collins said.

This has all been reported in the same week a second federal judge called the proposed census citizenship question “illegal”.

In a ruling this past week, federal judge Richard Seeborg issued a court order blocking the Trump administration’s plans to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. Seeborg says that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s effort to add a citizenship question “threatens the very foundation of our democratic system.” He also ruled that it was unconstitutional because it prevents the government from doing it’s job to count every person living in the U.S.

Secretary Ross made the choice last year to add the citizenship question to the census, claiming the Justice Department requested the question to improve enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act. Critics say this is just another move to heighten voter suppression.

The proposed census question would result in a significant undercount of non-citizens especially Latinos and other communities of colors due to fears that the information would be used against them. These undercounts would also affect the accuracy of new population counts. These numbers play a role in determining how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes, including billions of dollars in federal funding, each state receives after the 2020 census.

Seeborg is the second federal judge to stike down the proposed census question after an earlier ruling in New York by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman earlier this year.

In April, the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments to determine if the 2020 Census can include a citizenship question.

The proposed census question has become a contentious issue that would mostly affect blue states where Latinos live. Also, by having the Census Bureau go around the courts to receive information from the DHS, it only adds to this controversial issue.

While the census count happens just once every 10 years, it’s an important procedure that will certainly affect federal funding and serve as the basis for huge amounts of research. While federal law strictly prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing information, many fear having a question concerning legal status won’t help with building trust.

“It’s understandable that it’s alarming,” Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant on census issues, told the New York Times. “Given the anti-immigration policies of the administration, people who are fearful for their security and their status would see this as another possible effort to harm them.”

The Supreme Court hearing in April will allow Secretary Ross and the Justice Department to show their case that the question is needed to better enforce voting-rights laws. The court should make it’s final decision weeks after oral arguments begin.

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