SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
The Trump administration has made it clear it wants the federal government to know the U.S. citizenship status of every adult in the country. That's why for months, it's been trying to gather records from federal and state agencies. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has learned that four states have agreed to share records from their driver's licenses and state IDs to help in that effort. And he joins us now from New York.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: You've been following this for a long time, so catch us up. Why is this happening now?
WANG: Well, remember last year, when the Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that blocked the Trump administration from putting a citizenship question on the 2020 census - to be very clear, that question is not on this year's census forms. So President Trump has been moving ahead with a backup plan - this executive order Trump issued last July to use government records to try to narrow down who is and who is not a U.S. citizen.
MCCAMMON: Trying to get that information in another way. So which states are sharing their records with the Trump administration and how will that help determine people's citizenship status?
WANG: The four states that I've confirmed are Iowa, South Carolina, South Dakota and Nebraska, which was the first to voluntarily sign an agreement back in November. And, you know, not every state is doing this. Some states have been asked by the Trump administration to share information and said, no, we're not sharing. But researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau are getting data from these four states - you know, they're getting people's names, addresses, other details from records - driver's license records, state ID records. And these details, the researchers hope, will help them find matches among all the other records they've been gathering from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the IRS, Social Security Administration, other federal agencies. They're trying to determine the most up-to-date citizenship status of every adult in the country. You know, it's really important to keep in mind here that the Census Bureau is under orders to release anonymized information and that under federal law this information can only be used for statistical purposes. It can't be used against a person.
MCCAMMON: And, Hansi, why does the Trump administration want to know who is and is not a citizen? How would they use this information?
WANG: Well, if you read the executive order on citizenship information from last July, it says this kind of citizenship data - which would be more detailed than what the federal government currently has through a national survey conducted by the Census Bureau - this information could be used, the order says, quote, "to have a more reliable count of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S." It's not clear exactly how the administration would figure out who among the noncitizen count are unauthorized immigrants versus green card holders [see POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION below].
The order also says that the citizenship data could allow state and local governments to redraw voting districts in a radically different way. You know, for the most part, voting districts are drawn based on the number of all of the residents, including children, in an area. The Trump administration says it wants to allow districts to be drawn based on just the number of U.S. citizens old enough to vote. And a prominent GOP strategist who died in 2018 had concluded that way of redistricting would politically benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic white people.
MCCAMMON: And what kind of reaction are you hearing to these measures, especially from immigrant advocates?
WANG: Well, I'm tracking this ongoing federal lawsuit filed by groups arguing that the Trump administration is trying to prevent Latinos, noncitizens, other immigrants from getting their fair share in political representation. And, you know, the Census Bureau right now is on track to release the citizenship data by the end of next July if the administration is allowed to keep moving forward with this project.
MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.
Thanks so much, Hansi.
WANG: You're welcome, Sarah.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio version of this story, a phrase from President Trump's executive order on citizenship information was misquoted as "to have a more reliable count of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S." In fact, the order says that "data identifying citizens will help the Federal Government generate a more reliable count of the unauthorized alien population in the country."]
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