U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said Thursday that any personal citizenship information collected by the U.S. Census in 2020 would not be shared.
In an interview before a roundtable event hosted by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and technology firm Rokk3r and Rokk3r Fuel in Wynwood, Ross said data collected by Census would be fully encrypted — and in any event, it is illegal for the agency to share personal information.
“It is absolutely a federal offense for any Census employee to reveal any individual’s data to anyone,” he said in an interview. “They’re not permitted to reveal it to law enforcement, not permitted to reveal it to [Immigration Customs and Enforcement], not permitted to reveal it to immigration authorities, not permitted to reveal it to anyone. And anyone who violates that is subject to a several-hundred-thousand-dollar fine and years of imprisonment.”
Last March, Ross announced his plan to reinstate the citizenship question for the 2020 survey. The Justice Department had advised Ross the data was needed to better enforce alleged voter fraud. Politifact.com, a fact-checking website, has found reports that 2016 voters included millions of undocumented immigrants to be false.
Ross’s order was swiftly challenged by immigrant advocacy groups, and the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments regarding the order next week, though a new suit brought by a Texas-based immigrants’ rights group could delay the hearing. Census has said it needs to know by June whether the question will appear on the survey for printing purposes.
Elizabeth Fernandez, communications manager for the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition, said in an interview that there are approximately 1 million “mixed” families in Florida, meaning ones living in households with both documented and undocumented individuals.
She said any assurances by the administration should be weighed against the Trump administration’s policies aimed at decreasing immigration.
“If you’ve got a loved one — an aunt, a grandmother, a cousin in your household or family, the fear will be there,” she said. “We’re encouraging everyone to be counted, but we’re fighting [against this question] because we can’t trust what’s coming out of this administration when you just look at the news coming out.”
Census data are used to determine a myriad of important government decisions, including apportionment of Congressional seats and allocation of federal funds.
In remarks before the roundtable, Ross acknowledged the need for immigrants to shore up deficits in the U.S. workforce. Census data released this week showed Miami-Dade’s population could decline in the coming years if the wave of immigrants diminishes.
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