Department of Homeland Security plans to share data with the Census Bureau

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against a Trump administration decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire sent to every U.S. household. With only days remaining before a printing deadline, the move was effectively blocked.

Just two weeks later, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13880, Collecting Information About Citizenship Status in Connection With the Decennial Census. The Executive Order declared:

Nevertheless, we shall ensure that accurate citizenship data is compiled in connection with the census by other means.

Information stored with the Department of Commerce, to which the Census Bureau belongs, would help compensate for the lack of a direct question on the census form:

When the Secretary of Commerce decided to include the citizenship question on the census, he determined that such a question, in combination with administrative records, would provide the most accurate and complete data. At that time, the Census Bureau had determined based on experience that administrative records to which it had access would enable it to determine citizenship status for approximately 90 percent of the population.

Accuracy would be further strengthened by drawing on all available data, most significantly citizenship information stored by the Department of Homeland Security:

Therefore, to eliminate delays and uncertainty, and to resolve any doubt about the duty of agencies to share data promptly with the Department [of Commerce], I am hereby ordering all agencies to share information requested by the Department to the maximum extent permissible under law.

Executive Order 13880 emphasized that data would be collected for the sole purpose of determining accurate citizenship statistics and would not be used to identify individuals as illegal aliens and deport them.

To be clear, generating accurate data concerning the total number of citizens, non-citizens, and illegal aliens in the country has nothing to do with enforcing immigration laws against particular individuals. It is important, instead, for making broad policy determinations. Information obtained by the Department in connection with the census through requests for administrative records under 13 U.S.C. 6 shall be used solely to produce statistics and is subject to confidentiality protections under Title 13 of the United States Code. Information subject to confidentiality protections under Title 13 may not, and shall not, be used to bring immigration enforcement actions against particular individuals. Under my Administration, the data confidentiality protections in Title 13 shall be fully respected.

Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau is forbidden to release information identifying individuals, households, or businesses to anyone, including law enforcement agencies.

Department of Homeland Security plans to share data with the Census Bureau

On December 27, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a privacy impact assessment offering a first look at how Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — which are all DHS components — plan to share data with the Census Bureau.

The purpose of a ‘privacy impact assessment’ is of course to assess the impact of an operation on personal privacy. In this case, what's being studied is the likelihood that the data collected for the census count could be used for more than purely statistical purposes; specifically to identify particular individuals as illegal aliens.

In the document, the DHS explains the central relevance of data in their possession to the task of deriving statistical information on the citizenship status of U.S. residents.

As part of its mission to safeguard the American people, homeland, and values, DHS collects, maintains, and shares a vast amount of personally identifiable information. DHS maintains information about individuals seeking to immigrate to the United States, individuals seeking lawful entry to the United States, and individuals in violation of U.S. immigration law, among others.

Due to the decentralized nature of admission and immigration information, as well as the lack of a nationwide departure control system, CBP collects different data points from different data sets to create a “complete travel history” of an individual traveler. USCIS, CBP, ICE, and other DHS components contribute to the Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS), which generates an implied immigration status of an individual based on the date he or she entered the United States; class of admission; updates or changes to his or her immigration status; and, when available, the date he or she departed the United States.

The U.S. Census Bureau collects data from many different sources, including federal, state, and local governments. The USCIS has provided some information in the past, but this will be the first time that the Department of Homeland Security will assemble and supply unified information from its various components.

Due to complexity and overlap of travel, immigration, and enforcement records, DHS typically confines its sharing and uses of citizenship-related information to the enforcement of U.S. laws and the facilitation of benefit determinations. However, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13880: Collecting Information About Citizenship Status in Connection with the Decennial Census, DHS will now also provide citizenship and immigration benefits information about individuals to the U.S. Census Bureau. Though the development of this sharing effort by USCIS, CBP, and ICE represents a new initiative for DHS, USCIS has been providing anonymized data on LPRs and naturalized citizens to Census annually since at least 2007. DHS memorialized this information sharing arrangement through a MOA with the Census Bureau.

Why is statistical information on citizenship status important?

The Executive Order describes four ways in which information on the citizenship status of U.S. residents is important to government bodies at the federal and state levels.

  1. Data on the number of citizens and aliens in the U.S. is needed to help understand the effects of immigration on our country and to inform policymakers considering immigration policy.
  2. Aliens are restricted from eligibility for many public benefits. The lack of accurate information about the total citizen population makes it difficult to plan expenditures on government benefits programs and makes it extremely difficult to evaluate the potential effects of changing eligibility rules for public benefits.
  3. Efforts to find solutions addressing the immense number of unauthorized aliens living in the U.S. should start with an accurate understanding of the scope of the problem.
  4. Based on Supreme Court precedent, some courts have agreed that State districting plans may exclude individuals who are ineligible to vote. Whether that is permissible in practice will be resolved when a State actually proposes a districting plan based on voter-eligibility, which depends in part on citizenship.
Disclaimer: Information on this website is not legal advice.