People on the Internet have lost all but one of their collective screws this past week. Again.
As President-elect Donald Trump met with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — a potential pick for the head Department of Homeland Security — the Internet lit up with the leaked contents of their meeting, triggering another round of talks concerning a possible “national registry” of Americans or immigrants who subscribe to Islam.
While Kobach’s plan involves the George W. Bush-era National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) — a system that remained in place under President Barack Obama until 2011 (only to be replaced with a more comprehensive program) — few caught up to the fact NSEERS only involves the collection and crosschecking of data pertaining to immigrants coming to the United States from Muslim-majority countries. But as news sources ran with the story that Trump could eventually turn this into a registry of American Muslims and immigrants already living in the country, the President-elect’s spokesman Jason Miller reassured the public that no, a registry system targeting Muslims was not in the cards for the Trump administration.
Nevertheless, there is one event in our country’s history that serves as a precedent for a system that could effectively single out and help report on specific Americans and immigrants. But the U.S. government would never be able to put it in place if it wasn’t for the presence of the Census Bureau, an agency that costs billions of taxpayer dollars yearly.
In a recent piece for USA Today, explained that the Census Bureau sends “its hefty American Community Survey to more than 3 million households a year,” collecting personal information regarding the resident’s religion, ethnic background, employment history, and even if the resident in question has “difficulty remembering, concentrating or making decisions.”
While the agency threatens those taking the survey with a $5,000 fine for failing to comply with its demands, it never had to answer to its blatant disregard for the law in the 1940s, when the U.S. government had access to information on Japanese Americans thanks to the data collected by Census workers. With detailed information in hands, the Army eventually rounded Japanese Americans up, throwing them in internment camps and making this period in the history of the country one of the most infamous legacies of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In his piece, Bovard added that the detentions are now “widely recognized … as among the largest civil liberties violations in modern U.S. history,” prompting Congress to vote to compensate victims in 1988. But despite the shame often associated with this episode, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that a research unveiled documents proving that the bureau had been an important part in this charade, prompting the agency to admit culpability — but only to a certain extent.
To this day, the bureau claims it never provided names and addresses of all Japanese Americans. But despite the bureau’s claims, a study carried out by William Seltzer of Fordham University and Margo Anderson of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee proved the Secret Service had access to, at least, all the names and addresses of individuals of Japanese ancestry in the Washington, D.C. area thanks to the bureau.
So if you are concerned that the United States government could, under Trump or a future administration, round up any group of Americans and immigrants based solely on their religion or another particular characteristic, tackling the power and inquisitiveness of the U.S. Census Bureau would be a great first step, helping to trim the government’s power and ensure the privacy and 4th Amendment rights of all individuals are being properly protected.