Bay Ridge

Arab-Americans seek status change for next U.S. Census

January 14, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Arab-Americans will be able to identify themselves as Arab when they fill out their 2020 U.S. Census form if a proposal to change the form is adopted. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

The Arab-American Association of New York is urging residents to support a proposal to change the form Americans will fill out for the 2020 U.S. Census to allow those of Middle Eastern heritage to be designated as such by checking a box on the form.

The association, based on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, has sent an email to people on its mailing list asking them to signal their support for the proposed measure.

In previous Census counts, Arab-Americans have been classified as white. There is also no designation for Arab-Americans under nationalities, where Chinese, Japanese and even Native Hawaiian designations are listed.

The U.S. Census Bureau has made a proposal to change that and if the idea is adopted, a box labeled “Arab” will be added to the boxes designating different races and nationalities and Arab-Americans will be permitted to check that box.

The designation is important, according to Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, who wrote the email the organization sent out.

“Arab Americans are classified as ‘white’ and as a result, data on the numbers, needs and interests of the Arab American community are misrepresented,” Sarsour wrote.

The association also supports the idea of including the Middle East and North Africa regions of the world on the Census form. The Middle East and North Africa are commonly known as MENA.

“Because no designation currently exists on Census forms for individuals who trace their roots to the MENA region, it remains an ‘invisible’ community,” Sarsour wrote.

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Among other things, changing the form would: provide more accurate and inclusive data collection; bring the status and needs of these communities to light; and serve as a resource to federal and local policy makers, according to Sarsour.

In her email, Sarsour explained that the Census Bureau is currently holding a public comment period.

“We need at least 5,000 positive comments to support the Census testing for this new classification,” she wrote. The deadline for comments is Feb. 1.

The email includes a link to the website of the National Network for Arab American Communities where the reader can leave comments to be submitted to the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to an article posted on the Pew Research Center’s website on March 24, 2014, organizations representing people of Middle Eastern and North African descent charged that classifying them as white is inaccurate.

“When immigrants come here they’re very confused by American race classifications. They don’t necessarily relate to them, and they don’t know where they fit,” Helen Hatab Samhan, former executive director of the Arab American Institute Foundation, told the Pew Research Center.

Changes on the Census form would first have to be approved by the federal Office of Management and Budget, according to the Pew Research Center. Proposed changes must also be submitted to Congress by 2017.

The U.S. Census is conducted once every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution. It serves as an official count of how many people are living in the country.

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