Despite Requests from Trump Administration, Many State Departments of Motor Vehicles Have Not Turned Over Driver’s License Records to Census Bureau

Driver’s License Records not Turned Over by State Department
Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

It has often been said that the only governmental authority that has generally blocked the anti-immigration actions of the Trump administration has been the Federal judiciary.  In fact, there is another possible governmental authority that has in certain cases resisted the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration – the states. As an example of such state opposition to the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration, despite requests from the Trump administration, many state Departments of Motor Vehicles have not turned over driver’s license records to the Census Bureau.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration, holding that a specific citizenship question could not be added to the 2020 census questionnaire.  After this Supreme Court decision, in July, President Trump signed an executive order requiring the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, to collect records on citizenship from federal agencies and increase efforts “to obtain State administrative records concerning citizenship”.  It is believed that as a result of President Trump’s executive order, in August, the Census Bureau began requesting five years of driver’s license records from certain state Departments of Motor Vehicles.

However, based on a survey conducted by the “Associated Press”, as of October 23, at least 13 states have refused to share their state’s driver’s license information with the Census Bureau.  According to the survey, 17 states are deciding what to do (including 3 of the top 5 most populous states, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania), 17 states have not yet been contacted by the Census Bureau (including the other 2 of the top 5 most populous states, California and New York), and 3 states did not respond to the survey.  Thus, no state in the survey definitely affirmatively indicated that it would comply with the request for driver’s license records from the Census Bureau.

The 13 states that indicated in the survey that they would not be providing their state’s driver’s license information generally cited privacy concerns and prohibitions in state law for their decision.  Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap stated, “Philosophically, we believe the information in the database doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the people who it pertains to. . . . It’s not ours to give away”. 

Dave Drucker, the spokesman for the motor vehicle agency in Illinois, stated, “We, as a general rule, are not comfortable with giving out our data, certainly not in such a huge amount. That was the overriding concern”.  Kevin Malone, a spokesman for the motor vehicle agency in Nevada, stated, “We value our residents’ privacy and hesitate to release records in bulk”. Even in “Republican-leaning” Utah, Marissa Cote, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, said that Utah turned down the Census Bureau’s request because state law says personal data can be shared only for public safety reasons.  

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has encouraged states to reject the Census Bureau’s request for driver’s license information.  The ACLU believes that the Census Bureau’s request is part of an overall strategy by the Trump administration to only count citizens, and exclude immigrants, for various political purposes (including Federal funding, seats in Congress, and electoral votes), which it is believed will favor Republicans over Democrats.  Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, stated, “This endeavor appears to be part of a scheme motivated by an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose to dilute the political power of communities of color”.               

The use of motor vehicle records to accurately determine citizenship has been questioned.  Andrea Senteno, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that driver’s license records are “bad at determining when someone is not a citizen. . . . The Census Bureau usually plans for these types of big changes in their operations many, many years in advance, but they don’t have enough time right now to actually plan and provide clear information to the public about how they are going to use these administrative records. . . . They’re flying by the seat of their pants right now”. 

In addition, Kenneth Prewitt, a former Census Bureau director in the Clinton administration, said that states typically do not do a good job of tracking citizenship information. Prewitt stated, “People move, divorce, buy homes, pay state taxes, and these behaviors are not tied to any citizenship records”.

Litigation has been filed in Federal court challenging President Trump’s above-described executive order as “motivated by a racially discriminatory scheme to reduce Latino political representation”.  While states may differ in how they approach the Census Bureau’s request, litigation can possibly achieve a more comprehensive, nationwide favorable result for immigrants.

As litigation can be an important strategy for immigrants to protect their rights, immigrants need representation from a skilled immigration litigation attorney, such as Kameli Law, which has had years of experience and success in representing immigration clients.  If you need assistance with any immigration matter, please contact the Kameli Law, at or 312-233-1000, for help.

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