Posted by Guest on April 23, 2019 in Blog

The 2020 Census has received an unusual amount of attention. This is largely because of the Trump Administration's highly politicized decision to add a citizenship question to the decennial census form. The attempt has been challenged and criticized as an attack on the purpose and meaning of the Census. Since its first run in 1790, the Census has had a straightforward mission: count every resident of the United States, once. Now, many Americans are concerned that data collected from the count may be used for more nefarious reasons.  

On April 23rd, the Supreme Court held oral arguments in part on the whether a citizenship question would violate the constitutional mandate of the Census. Regardless of the Court’s upcoming decision, rhetoric surrounding the citizenship question has already done significant damage to the integrity of the Census. Research shows that the citizenship question would decrease both response rates and accuracy of responses. A 2018 survey found that only 67 percent of individuals were likely to respond to the 2020 Census. This number is lower for certain groups, with Asian Americans reporting only a 55 percent likelihood that they will respond. In fact, 32 percent of Arab Americans are not likely to fill out the Census according to AAI’s message testing research. These low response rates help explain the undercount of Arab Americans. While the Census Bureau estimates that there are at least 2.1 million Arab Americans, The Arab American Institute puts that number at closer to 3.7 million.   

The same Census Bureau study found that most participants believed the purpose of the citizenship question was to find and deport undocumented immigrants. The study discusses the top five barriers to Census participation; concerns about confidentiality and privacy, fear of repercussions, and a general distrust of the government are three of those five. The other two reasons given are lack of knowledge about the Census and apathy about the efficacy of the process. These barriers are also consistent with the barriers we find for members of the Arab American community.  

Lack of knowledge about the uses of the Census and the protections given to its data could have deeply detrimental effects to the health of our democracy. An accurate and complete Census is necessary to ensure that our government functions as intended. Without it, we risk unrepresentative districts, which damage the integrity of our elections. The Census also determines how federal funds that support schools, hospitals, and infrastructure will be allocated to local communities. Furthermore, Census officials are strictly prohibited from sharing data with any other federal agency. This means that any information collected in 2020 will be used for statistical purposes only and this information is to be kept confidential as required under federal law 

Even before the proposed addition of citizenship question, Arab Americans were considered one of the many hard to count groups by the Census Bureau. Hard to count populations include people of color, immigrants, non-English speakers, and children under five, among others. The possible addition of a citizenship question together with the abandonment of a Middle Eastern or North African ethnicity category means that Arab Americans are more likely than ever to be undercounted on this upcoming Census.  

For this reason, The Arab American Institute is co-sponsoring a national campaign called #YallaCountMeIn. The mission of this campaign is to ensure that Arab Americans are accurately and fairly counted in the 2020 Census. Research shows that community members are the most trusted messengers for information about the Census. People are also the most motivated to fill out the Census when the benefits to public services in their community are emphasized. We encourage people to sign the pledge to be counted, and to share their reasons why they decided to pledge on social media. Remind your family and friends that the Census is about ensuring a functioning democracy; through fair and equal apportionment of federal funding and representation in our democracy for the next 10 years. Use your voice to make sure that Arab Americans are proudly counted on the 2020 Census by saying “Yalla, Count Me In!” 


Zoe Ravina is a spring 2019 intern at the Arab American Institute. 


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