Posted on January 26, 2018 in Press Releases


January 26, 2018


Margaret Lowry,

(202) 652-4993

Statement from AAI Executive Director Maya Berry on the Rejection of the “Middle Eastern or North African” Category from the 2020 Census:

Today’s announcement from the Census Bureau that the 2020 Census would not include a new “Middle Eastern or North African” category or use a combined question format is an egregious rejection of stakeholder interest that impedes the possibility of an accurate count.

The decision comes after the Office of Management and Budget delayed a planned December release of recommendations regarding the standards for race and ethnicity data for federal agencies, which would affect the categories used in the decennial census. The failure to adopt an approach that we have worked on for more than three decades is irresponsible and threatens to undo years of meticulous research and consultation with stakeholders; research that continuously indicated that a more accurate count could be achieved through these changes.

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.

The December delay of the OMB’s decision forces the 2020 question format to adhere to the existing standards and continue the use of a separate question format on race and ethnicity. At the 2020 Census Program Management Review today, Census officials attributed the lack of testing for the MENA ethnicity category in a non-combined question format as the reason for its absence from the 2020 Census format, stating that further testing was needed before the inclusion of a MENA category in a separate question format is feasible.  

This comes after repeated letters, statements, and meetings from various stakeholders, including the Arab American Institute and members of the MENA Advocacy Network, insisting that the category should be treated as an ethnicity in a separate question format and that the Bureau should hire an expert on the Middle East and North Africa to facilitate a more nuanced understanding of the category on the part of the Census Bureau. With today’s announcement, our government officials have failed the communities most deeply affected by an undercount.

For the Arab American community, and many other stakeholders, the decision to cut the “Middle Eastern or North African” category from the 2020 Census is a severe blow. Years of undercounting have 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.

A fair and accurate count from census surveys is one of the most important tools for ensuring the civil rights of all Americans. Politics has no role to play in an accurate count. While the Trump Administration seeks to undermine efforts for an accurate count, they cannot do so without facing oversight from congress. We will continue to fight for the needs of our community and all those affected by the recent developments on the 2020 Census before the final March 31st deadline, when the Census Bureau submits the final question content to congress. We will demand congressional action for nothing short of a full and accurate count.


Founded in 1985, the Arab American Institute (AAI) is a nonprofit organization committed to the civic and political empowerment of Americans of Arab descent.  AAI provides policy, research and public affairs services to support a broad range of community activities. For more information please visit