In a new attempt to reassure undocumented immigrants that taking part in the 2010 Census is safe and that the Census Bureau will not share information with other government agencies, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D.-N.Y.) obtained a letter from the Department of Justice stating that the confidentiality of the count is not superseded by the Patriot Act.
Velázquez sent two letters to the agency in September and December last year, asking what effect the anti-terrorism bill could have on the confidentiality protections the Census Act provides.
“Your letters express concern on the part of some members of the public that information-gathering or information-sharing provisions of the Patriot Act may override the confidentiality requirements of the Census Act so as to require the Commerce Secretary to disclose otherwise covered census information to federal law enforcement or national security officials,” wrote assistant attorney general Ronald Weich in a response dated March 3, 2010.
Weich then went on to say that the precedents in federal legislation which protect census participants’ information from disclosure support “the view that if Congress intended to override these protections if would say so clearly and explicitly.”
No provision of the Patriot Act, he added, contradicts that view.
At the same time, a different letter, this one part of a signature-gathering campaign, showed that efforts to distance the Census campaign from the stronger enforcement of immigration laws of the last few years have not been 100% successful.
The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights wants support for its request of a “suspension of immigration enforcement activities in order to maximize immigrant community participation” in the Census.
Immigrant advocates have expressed concerns that undocumented foreigners won’t participate in the Census out of fear of government officials.
NNIRR notes in the letter that “in the past two census periods, during 1990 and 2000, many operations were suspended for specific periods,” but it also acknowledges that the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security “have thus far not indicated that they will take any steps.”
The Feet in Two Worlds project on the Census is made possible thanks to the generous support of the 2010 Census Outreach Initiative Fund at The New York Community Trust and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.