State Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) sent a letter to Governor Bill Lee on Friday questioning why Tennessee was not sharing data with the U.S. Census Bureau that would help estimate the number of illegal aliens living in Tennessee.
The issue arises out of President Trump’s memorandum this week to the Secretary of Commerce that excludes illegal aliens from the apportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives that follows the decennial census.
The memorandum states in part, “The President, by law, makes the final determination regarding the ‘whole number of persons in each State,’ which determines the number of Representatives to be apportioned to each State, and transmits these determinations and accompanying census data to the Congress (2 U.S.C. 2a(a)).”
Trump said that including illegals in the count “would create perverse incentives and undermine our system of government.”
Trump issued an executive order about a year ago to gather citizenship data on U.S. residents through administrative records last year after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked his administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census form.
Four states with Republican governors – Iowa, South Carolina, South Dakota and Nebraska – are cooperating by sharing state drivers’ license information with the Census Bureau.
Griffey told Lee in his letter that he recently learned that just four states are assisting Trump and his administration in obtaining an accurate count of the American citizen population.
“More importantly,” Griffey continued, “I learned Tennessee is NOT one of those states.”
Tennessee’s Department of Safety (DOS), Griffey found after inquiring with its legislative liaison, not only declined to share Tennessee drivers’ license information with the U.S. Census Bureau after consultation with Lee’s administration, DOS never even bothered to respond to the Census Bureau’s request.
Griffey enumerates four points that challenge the state’s refusal to share such data:
1. Federal law enforcement can already access a person’s Tennessee drivers’ license data via the Tennessee Information Enforcement System (TIES);
2. Current Tennessee law authorizes the disclosure pursuant to TCA §55-25-107(b)(1);
3. The Census Bureau enters into agreements with cooperating states regarding the confidentiality of the Personal Identifiable Information (PII); and
4. Tennessee has already entered into a data sharing arrangement with the U.S. Census Bureau pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Tennessee’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) data as well as Tennessee’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) data.
While Griffey acknowledges that persons in the state illegally cannot obtain a driver’s license, he has been informed that providing the information assists the Census Bureau in estimating the number of illegal aliens living in Tennessee by comparing it to other collected data.
Griffey told The Tennessee Star that data available to federal law enforcement through TIES is limited to an individual person and case, whereas drivers’ license data would be provided in its entirety to the Census Bureau.
The MOU, Griffey also told The Star, would protect all personal identifying information by using an identification number and would not be shared or even usable for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
Griffey told Lee he simply does not understand why Tennessee would not want to help Trump in his efforts to identify and count the number of illegal aliens in the state.
Tennesseans who work hard every day to take of their families, Griffey told the governor, cannot help but wonder whether the State of Tennessee cares more about illegals than them.
In light of all of these factors, the state Rep told Lee he is “at a loss as to why you and your Administration has taken the position it has on this issue.”
He urged the governor to address and “correct the grave error” as soon as possible by directing to the DOS to share the data requested by the U.S. Census Bureau with the confidentiality protections included in the MOU.
– – –
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star. The Associated Press contributed to this report.