Nebraska Is 1st State To Share Driver’s License Records With Census Bureau

Posted by Hansi Lo Wang

Anna Gronewold AP

Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles Director Rhonda Lahm has signed an agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to share the state's driver's license records. The bureau is planning to use the records as part of an effort to produce data about the citizenship status of every person living in the U.S.

Updated at 9:10 p.m. ET

Nebraska’s Department of Motor Vehicles has agreed to share its state driver’s license records with the U.S. Census Bureau, the bureau and the state’s DMV said Wednesday.

The confirmation makes Nebraska the first state to cooperate with the Trump administration’s efforts to produce data about the U.S. citizenship status of every person living in the country. So far, no other state has signed a similar agreement with the Census Bureau, Michael Cook, a spokesperson for the bureau, tells NPR.

The bureau has been trying to compile records from states to comply with President Trump’s executive order requiring it to use state and federal records to generate the information. The order — which basically repackages an earlier directive by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the bureau — was issued after federal courts blocked the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census forms.

Trump’s executive order states the citizenship data should be made available for states when they redraw voting districts after the upcoming national head count. A prominent GOP redistricting strategist had concluded that using that kind of information could be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites.”

The bureau has said that any records it gathers will be “stripped of all personal identifiable information” and used only for “statistical purposes.”

Still, some states, such as Maine, have said they will not share driver’s license records with the bureau.

In a written statement, Adam Eakin, a manager at Nebraska’s DMV, said the department takes the privacy of its information “extremely seriously” and agreed to share data with the bureau after reviewing state and federal laws, including Nebraska’s Uniform Motor Vehicle Records Disclosure Act. The Census Bureau met a “qualifying exemption” under that state law, which restricts the release of DMV records, Eakin said.

Nebraska provides driver’s licenses and state ID cards only to people who can show they are legally residing in the U.S.

“This means 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,” Eakin added.

The agreement, first reported by The Associated Press, was signed earlier this month by the director of the department, Rhonda Lahm, according to a copy the DMV provided to NPR. It specifies that starting this December and through the end of 2021, the state’s DMV will share monthly data about license and ID card holders’ citizenship status, plus names, addresses, dates of birth, sex, race and eye color.

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.

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.”

It is not clear, however, how reliable these kinds of records — which are not frequently updated — are for determining a person’s current citizenship status.

Latinx community organizations in Texas and Arizona are suing the Trump administration to try to block the bureau from producing citizenship data. The groups say the administration’s efforts are part of a conspiracy to ensure that Latinos, noncitizens and other immigrants do not receive fair political representation when voting maps are redrawn after the 2020 count.

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