Washington, DC – In response to years of efforts by Iranian-American organizations to ensure Iranian Americans are counted, the Department of Commerce is proposing that a new category be included in the 2020 Census: “Middle East North Africa” (MENA), which includes a designated check-box or write-in option for “Iranian.” By including an option for “Iranian,” Iranian Americans can finally be counted as part of the Census and have an accurate accounting of our population size. A coalition of Iranian-American organizations comprised of IAAB, IABA, PAAIA and NIAC submitted a public comment to the Office of Management and Budget in support of the proposal and are encouraging that Iranian Americans submit their own public comments as well.
In the past, the Census required individuals to identify themselves based on five categories for race, which meant that most Iranian Americans selected “White” or “Other.” Under this new proposal, there would be a combined and broader list of racial, ethnic and national categories under which individuals can identify. Under this broader list of combined categories, there would be a new option – Middle East North Africa (MENA) – which would include a check-box or write-in box for “Iranian.”
We believe that the inclusion of this new category will help finally enable an accurate accounting of the size of the Iranian-American community. Complete and accurate numbers regarding the population size of the Iranian-American community have been elusive. An accurate accounting of population size is an important element of a community’s political, social, and economic empowerment. Information collected through the Census is utilized in the drawing of congressional and state legislative district boundaries; the evaluation of claims of private-sector employment discrimination and the monitoring of discrimination in housing, mortgage lending, and credit; and the collection and presentation of population characteristics data, labor force data, education data, and vital and health statistics.
Census data is completely private and protected by longstanding federal law, so fears that this data would be used to violate such privacy or otherwise undermine our community – while understandable considering the current climate – are resolved by these legal protections.
After many years of working so that our community could be counted in the Census, this new proposal to give people of Iranian descent a designated identification option is a victory for Iranian Americans that will better ensure for our full political representation.