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March 28, 2024

It’s Official: Iranian Americans to Finally be Counted in U.S. Census

After decades of research, education and advocacy by NIAC and many others, the next Census in 2030 will officially include Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) as a category option, with “Iranian” included as a subcategory, among others.

For the 2030 Census and additional government surveys, the addition of a MENA category will finally address the significant gaps in research and policymaking on subjects like socioeconomic conditions, civic engagement, and health disparities relevant to the Iranian-American and other MENA communities.

How did we get here?

During the 1997 revision of the policy establishing official racial and ethnic categories, suggestions to include a MENA category were initially rejected by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), citing research that indicated MENA individuals had identified with the White category. However, significant research and organizing from MENA communities like ours has since supported the incorporation of a MENA category. 

Driven by the research indicating these changes, the Census Bureau tested a MENA category in 2015, leading to their official recommendation in 2017 for the category to be included in the 2020 Census. This recommendation was, however, overruled by President Trump who ordered that it be walked back.

Upon assuming office in 2021, President Biden issued an executive order mandating the creation of more equitable policies for minority groups. The Biden Administration formally endorsed inclusion of a MENA Category at the start of 2023. The OMB subsequently opened a comment period in which members of the public could provide insight and feedback into the proposed revisions. NIAC was among many groups and individuals who submitted comments welcoming the proposal during the comment period, supporting the inclusion of a MENA category and Iranian subcategory and urging that detailed subcategories be utilized as the default option.

What does this mean?

While this policy revision can serve as a direct pipeline to some aspects of representation for MENA communities – particularly with political representation and participation – there are still further steps that must be taken to ensure the full application of this category to all facets of life for MENA communities. The purpose of Directive 15 – the policy which establishes federal racial and ethnic categories – is to serve as a minimum standard and foundation upon which federal agencies and lawmakers can expand. This means that while we celebrate this incredible win today, our work to ensure full implementation of this policy and the benefits that come with it for our community continues. We will continue that work and update you as it progresses.

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