Texas Considering Whether to Hand Driver’s License, Citizenship Information to Census Bureau

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The Texas Department of Public Safety received a request for the information earlier this month but has taken no action.

As the Trump administration moves forward with efforts to compile detailed citizenship information for the upcoming census, the U.S. Census Bureau has asked Texas to consider sharing parts of its driver’s license and ID database.

The Texas Department of Public Safety received the request from the bureau Oct. 2 with a proposal for the state to provide a monthly dataset, including driver license or ID numbers and citizenship status for Texans who have been issued those documents. A DPS spokeswoman said the department was reviewing the request, but “no action has been taken at this time.”

Similar requests went out across the country as part of the Census Bureau’s efforts to comply with a July executive order from President Donald Trump that called for compiling citizenship data from existing government records. The bureau has long used state administrative records to supplement and improve its surveys, the bureau said in a statement released earlier this week, but it recently expanded into driver’s license records for the 2020 census.

“Responses to all Census Bureau surveys and administrative records obtained by the Census Bureau are safe, secure and protected by law,” the bureau’s statement read.

DPS on Friday provided The Texas Tribune with the communications it received from a Census Bureau official, including a template for a data-sharing agreement. That template included a proposal for the state to provide monthly records from 2018 through 2023. The requested data includes “driver license number or identification number, type of card, name, address, date of birth, sex, race, citizenship status, data issued and date updated.”

Several states have rejected the federal government’s request. But it’s unclear whether Gov. Greg Abbott will follow suit. A spokesman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

In 2017, Texas partly rejected a request from the Trump Administration’s now-defunct Election Integrity Commission for voter information, only handing over information that’s considered public under Texas law. And Abbott sought to reassure Texans that while the state would comply with part of a request for information, it would keep “private your private information.”

The Census Bureau's requests come several months after the Trump administration lost a lengthy court fight to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court blocked after finding that the administration had provided a “contrived” reason for obtaining the information.

The administration had claimed the citizenship question was added at the request of the Justice Department so officials could better enforce voting rights law. But evidence that emerged through litigation indicated that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asked the Justice Department to make that request after he was in touch with Trump advisers.

Although Trump backed away from that effort, he signed an executive order directing the government to use administrative records to compile citizenship information, which aligned with what the Census Bureau had been recommending all along.

But the Census Bureau’s request has raised concerns about the reliability of citizenship information from driver’s license and ID databanks.

Earlier this year, that dataset derailed Texas’ efforts to scour its voter rolls for noncitizens when the secretary of state relied on driver’s license and ID data to question the citizenship status of nearly 100,000 registered voters, only to discover later that tens of thousands of them were naturalized citizens.

In Texas, immigrants who are not citizens can obtain driver’s licenses and IDs, which are valid for several years, and are not required to update DPS if they become naturalized citizens before they have to renew those documents.

Data from the decennial census is used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funding and is the basis for political representation. In announcing his executive order earlier this year, Trump offered the clear indication that his administration was seeking the detailed citizenship data to offer states the ability to redraw legislative districts based on who is eligible to vote.

Evidence in the litigation over the citizenship question uncovered a 2015 analysis of the Texas House that demonstrated how using the population of citizens who are voting age, as opposed to total population, would lead to a “radical redrawing” of House districts and prove advantageous to Republicans and white Texans.

Texas House leaders have since said they have no plans to use citizenship data in this way. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has not responded to questions about whether he would support such a move.

This article was originally published in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

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