Updated January 18, 2019
Among the most charged civic issues of our time is immigration. While the tempting to duck discussions about it might be tempting, neglecting them would fail to prepare our students for a world in which migration is not just a current event. Migration is our past, present, and future, Moreover, as educators, we would miss the teachable moments that reveal how government impacts the lives of ordinary people. For example, the government takes a census every 10 years. Well, why do that do that? Last week’s decision by a federal judge to block changes to the census reveals what is at stake.
On March 26, 2018, the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the administration of the U.S. Census, announced that the 2020 census would include a new question, it would ask people who respond to the census about their citizenship status. While this might seem like a simple addition, the announcement has sparked controversy, some support, and a lawsuit from the State of California. On June 15 NPR reported that, “U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ordered the administration to stop its plans to include the controversial question on forms for the upcoming national head count “without curing the legal defects” the judge identified in his 277-page opinion.”
We encourage you to discuss the changes with your students as part of an exploration of current events. Below are a series of reliable resources that you might find helpful in framing the conversation as well as a few reflection questions you might use to guide your discussion.
What is the census?
- What is the census?
- What data does the census collect and how is it used?
- Why does the census ask what it asks?
Reporting on the March 26 announcement:
- 2020 Census Will Ask About Respondents’ Citizenship Status, NPR, March 26, 2018
- Despite Concerns, Census Will Ask Respondents if They Are U.S. Citizens, New York Times, March 26, 2018
- Citizenship question to be put back on the 2020 Census for the first time in 70 years, USA Today, March 26, 2018
How does the Commerce department explain the change and how are people responding?
- The U.S. Commerce Department Announcement, March 26, 2018
- Secretary Wilbur Ross’s memo explaining the decision, March 26, 2018
- Adding Question About Citizenship Is Contrary To Census Mission, Define American, Press Release, March 27, 2018
- Citizenship question on 2020 census may result in undercount, Xavier Becerra and Alex Padilla in the San Fransico Chronicle, Op-Ed, March 26, 2018
How have the courts responded?
In January 2019 A federal judge in New York ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to add the question about citizenship.
- Judge Orders Trump Administration To Remove 2020 Census Citizenship Question, via NPR
- Trump administration barred from adding citizenship question to 2020 census, for now, via PBS
- Here’s why the US census citizenship question stokes mistrust
Consider using Project Zero’s Three Why’s Thinking Routine to guide a discussion. Ask your students to reflect on the following questions:
- Why does this story matter to me?
- Why does it matter to my community?
- Why does it matter to the world?
How do supporters of the change justify their position? What concerns do critics articulate? What is at stake?
What are the legal, moral, and ethical issues involved in this discussion?
Ask students to note words and phrases that resonate with them and collect them in a word cloud. Project the results and ask students what they notice in the responses from the class. What words appear most frequently? Are there words that surprise them? If so, what are they and why?
To conclude the lesson, you might facilitate a four corners discussion or barometer discussion as a way of having students articulate their own positions and listening to the perspectives of others about the proposed changes. If you prefer to have a more open-ended discussion, consider using a fishbowl strategy or a Socratic seminar.