The Trump Administration Is Using the Department of Homeland Security to Obtain Citizenship Data

Supermajority Education Fund

January 14, 2020

Immigrant families in the U.S. have already been on high alert since Trump took office in January 2017, but in late December, the Department of Homeland Security added yet another reason to cause these families concern. The Department announced in a regulatory document on its website that it would share records containing citizenship data — including birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers, and alien registration numbers —for every person living in the U.S with the Census Bureau. 

This move comes after the Supreme Court’s June 2019 decision to reject the Trump administration’s push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census. On July 11, President Trump issued an Executive order stating that the government would use another method to collect citizenship data from U.S. residents. He announced that he was “ordering all agencies to share information requested by the [Department of Homeland Security] to the maximum extent permissible under law.” The December 27 post on the DHS website announcing the shared citizenship data was the result of the July executive order.

As NPR notes, federal law prohibits the government from releasing immigration records for survivors of human trafficking and domestic abuse who have applied for special visas and are protected under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Usually, federal regulation also prohibits the sharing of confidential information about vulnerable groups, including asylum-seeker and refugees, but, according to the DHS document, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has asked for permission to release information about these groups. 

William Frey, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, told Supermajority News that sharing this information will only harm minority populations whose state representatives are already neglectful of their needs.

Frey’s primary concern, he said, was the potential “ use of this information by the Census Bureau—to create a file that could be used by some red states to conduct redistricting according to the Citizen Voting Age Population rather than the total population.” Frey added that he believes. “this is the underlying reason the Trump administration is pushing for this. For states where this might happen, younger, minority, and urban parts of the population would be under-represented in ways that would adversely impact many policies that favor those groups.”

At the time of Trump’s decision to back down from advocating for the citizenship census question, Frey wrote about why that question would have been problematic for many U.S. immigrants. 

“If the citizenship question was included on the census, an estimated nine million members of such populations, including large numbers of Hispanic and Asian residents, would likely not fill out their census forms,” Frey wrote. “Many would fear having information shared with law enforcement or being subject to other forms of harassment in the current political environment.”

Now, it seems, those nine million residents—who don’t want their citizenship information to be public—won’t have a choice.