Census Question Controversy

Bias, Discrimination & Hate
People, Identity & Culture
Census Worker 2010

U.S. Census Bureau/CC BY-ND 2.0

Grade Level:
Middle School,
High School
Common Core Standards:
Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
Bias, Discrimination & Hate
People, Identity & Culture

In March 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau released the questions for the upcoming 2020 Census. The data collected by the Census every ten years determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives based on its share of the population. It is also used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities. One of the new (and controversial) 2020 Census questions is about citizenship. All U.S. households will be asked: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

This question was requested by the Justice Department, who says they need better data on the voting age population to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census, granted the Justice Department’s request. This has caused a great deal of controversy. Critics of the citizenship question argue that there are other ways to get the information and they believe this change will discourage non-citizens and even legal immigrants from participating. They say that would result in undercounting, which could shift the balance of power in the House of Representatives and lead to inadequate representation in Congress and reduced funding for those who need it most. Twelve states have challenged the citizenship question in court, in two separate lawsuits—one filed by the Attorney General of California, and a second filed by the Attorney General of New York on behalf of his state and 10 others.

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn about the U.S. Census, to understand and reflect upon the controversy over the citizenship question and to express their own point of view on the topic by writing a persuasive letter.

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