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Census confirms drivers’ records request tied to citizenship

A woman enters a Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles drivers license service center, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Hialeah, Fla. The U.S. Census Bureau has asked the 50 states for drivers' license information, months after President Donald Trump ordered the collection of citizenship information. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The U.S. Census Bureau is acknowledging that its nationwide request for state drivers’ license records is the result of President Donald Trump’s order to gather records that can better determine the numbers of citizens and non-citizens across the U.S.

The bureau has expanded its request for state records in response to Trump’s order , officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Trump issued the order after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked his administration’s efforts to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

The agency made the acknowledgement after The Associated Press reported Monday on the requests.

States already share records on food assistance and other programs to help the bureau track traditionally undercounted populations and pinpoint vacant houses. But civil rights advocates worry that the wider net being cast by the Trump administration for citizenship information could chill Latino participation in the population count, which will determine how many congressional seats each state gets and guide the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding. The results of the 2020 Census also will be used to redraw state and local electoral maps.

Experts caution that inaccuracies in state motor vehicle records also make them a poor choice for tracking citizenship.

The bureau said the records it receives are stripped of identifiable information and used for statistical purposes only. The records are “safe, secure and protected by law,” according to the bureau.

“Recently, the Census Bureau expanded this request to the states to include driver’s license administrative records surrounding the executive order on increasing the use of administrative records for the 2020 Census,” the statement said.

The U.S. Constitution requires that congressional seats be apportioned based on the total number of people residing in each state. But some conservatives are challenging that. Alabama is suing the Census Bureau , arguing that including all people regardless of immigration status for redistricting purposes unfairly shifts political power and electoral votes from “states with low numbers of illegal aliens to states with high numbers of illegal aliens.”

Civil rights groups say a now-deceased North Carolina-based redistricting expert pushed for the census citizenship question, believing Republicans could benefit by using the number of voting-age citizens rather than the total population as the basis for drawing state legislative districts since noncitizens are more common in Democratic-leaning areas.

Several civil rights organizations have challenged Trump’s executive order in federal court in Maryland, saying the order is “motivated by a racially discriminatory scheme to reduce Latino political representation.”

Census officials will decide by March 31 on a methodology for tracking citizenship. The next day, April 1, is Census Day, marking the peak of efforts for the 2020 count.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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