New Delhi: On his first day in office, US President Joe Biden got to work dismantling a number of Donald Trump-era policies that his government sees as the most “dangerous”. One of the 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations signed revoked Trump’s decision to exclude non-citizens from the US Census count.
This means that despite the focus on national security, particularly after the 9/11 attack, the US will continue to be a country that does not maintain a list of its citizens, and does not know how many of its residents are citizens.
The Trump administration’s plan to count citizens, rather than residents, had created fears of data misuse – similar to those in India who believe the Narendra Modi government’s plan to initiate a National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be misused to target minority communities, particularly Muslims.
In mid 2019, the US Supreme Court had thrown in a spanner in the Trump government’s plans, by rejecting the authorities’ explanation on why a question on citizenship had been added to the census questionnaire. The court said until the government provided a better explanation, it could not implement the change. As The Wire has reported before, the US had government claimed that a database of citizens would help implement the Voting Rights Act, similar to the Indian government’s claim that the NPR and NRC would improve the delivery of welfare schemes. But given the statements made by leaders in both governments, serious doubts had been raised on whether this was actually the case.
To add to fears in the US there was also historical context – an amicus brief was filed by lawyers on behalf of civil society groups and four Japanese-American individuals in October 2018 that drew attention to painful episode from recent American history in which census data was used to facilitate the mass detention of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.
In December 2019, the Indian government had cleared the way for updating the NPR – a precursor process to the creation of the controversial NRC – and allocated a budget of Rs 3,941 crore for this task. However, the coronavirus pandemic put the exercise on hold, and also put a halt to anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act-NRC-NPR protests taking place across the country. Some state government had said they would not implement the NPR in defiance of the Central diktat, as the exercise was to take place at the same time as the Census data collection.
You can read more about what the Indian NPR is, and why it created fears of data misuse, here.