U.S. Census won't include Middle Eastern-North African ethnic category in 2020 survey

Middle Eastern currently considered 'White' on Census survey

By Paula Tutman - Reporter, Ken Haddad

DETROIT - The U.S. Census Bureau will not be adding a new ethnicity category in their 2020 survey that would help categorize people of Middle Eastern and North African decent.

Currently, the Census categorizes Middle Eastern-North African as "White."

A research effort that spanned years, lead by ACCESS, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans and the Office of Management & Budget, under the Obama administration, pushed to add a new category to the 2020 Census survey, called "Middle Eastern-North African," or "MENA."

The deadline to add the category to the 2020 survey passed this month without consideration from the the Trump administration's Office of Management & Budget.

Census data is instrumental in determining how services, including education, health and other legislation are being served in different communities.

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The improved categorization would help in addressing things like hate crime reporting, helping minority business owners get loans and drawing congressional and state legislative boundaries to more accurately represent the population. 

Officials say the number of Arabs in America are greatly underreported, which results in a lack of support across the board.

Hassan Jaber, executive director at ACCESS, released a statement following the news:

ACCESS, PAAIA are deeply disheartened by the decision to exclude MENA category from U.S. Census

ACCESS and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) are disappointed by the Office of Management & Budget’s decision to exclude a Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) category in the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census, despite testing, research, and community input solicited by the Census Bureau and years of work by our organizations and other coalition groups advocating for inclusion of these unique populations.

ACCESS, its National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) and PAAIA have advocated for the support of numerous research and grassroots efforts to bring awareness and attention to the significance of a MENA option for populations that are underrepresented and face social disparities and discrimination.

Census figures are used as benchmarks for businesses, professional organizations and government officials in determining how services are allocated to various populations. Our communities, like all others, rely on representation through various channels of legislation, civil rights, education and health statistics. Obtaining an accurate count of these communities would translate into enhanced services and better representation.

Despite this setback, ACCESS and PAAIA will reinforce our efforts to gather information on the communities we represent and fight for equal and fair representation until these unique populations are fully counted. The work already done on this issue has set a very strong precedent for our communities to be recognized and included in the future.

The Arab American Institute called the move to omit the MENA category an "egregious rejection of stakeholder interest that impedes the possibility of an accurate count."

AAI estimates the number of Arabs in the United States at 3.7 million, more than twice the number calculated by the federal government through the U.S. Census.

"The role of the Trump Administration in allowing politics to play a part in the development of the 2020 census – as evidenced by their rejection of changes presented by the Census Bureau’s seasoned demographers, the disruption of the process by a late request from the Department of Justice to add an unprecedented and dangerous question on citizenship to the decennial census form, and rejection of stakeholder input – threatens all of us. Our communities, like all others, rely on representation through legislative redistricting, civil rights laws, and education and health statistics. A continued undercount will cause harm," AAI said in a statement.

Executive Director Maya Berry says undercounting has "deprived our community of access to basic services and rights, from language assistance at polling places, to the allocation of educational grants for cultural competency training and language assistance, to greater access to health information and research."

Berry says Congress will be pushed to get the decision overturned.

The National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) had a list of benefits to including the MENA category:

  • Enforcing the Voting Rights Act and drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries
  • Establishing federal affirmative action plans and evaluating claims of employment discrimination
  • Monitoring discrimination in housing, mortgage lending and credit
  • Helping minority owned small businesses get federal grants and loans
  • Allow the government and independent scholars to understand trends of health, employment and education
  • Better tracking of hate crimes and other civil rights violations

The U.S. Census released the following statement last week about the decision:

The Census Bureau will not include a combined question format for collecting Hispanic origin and race, or a separate Middle Eastern or North African category on the census form. The upcoming 2018 Census Test in Providence County, R.I., which begins on March 16, will reflect the proposed 2020 Census race and ethnicity questions.

The Census Bureau remains on schedule as it implements the operational plan and will provide the planned 2020 Census questionnaire wording to Congress by March 31, 2018, as directed by law. The Census Bureau will continue to further its extensive research on how to collect accurate race and ethnicity data across its surveys.

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