Biden administration proposes Mena category to US census
The Biden administration is proposing major changes to forms for the 2030 census and federal government surveys, which would create a new checkbox category for "Middle Eastern or North African".
The new inclusion, announced in a federal register notice on Thursday, would transform how people of Middle Eastern or North African descent are counted in statistics across the United States.
The reforms would also mark a major achievement for advocates of Arab Americans and other Mena groups which have long campaigned for their own checkbox.
The US currently categorises people with origins from the Mena region as white, though many people descending from the region do not identify as such. In addition to a new box to check on forms, the proposal would change the government's definition of "White", and it would no longer include people with Mena origins.
Research by the US Census Bureau suggests that both the addition of a "Middle Eastern or North African" box and a combined question about race and ethnicity could decrease the number of people who identify as white for the national head count.
The proposal comes after the White House's Office of Budget and Management (OMB) announced that the Biden administration was beginning a formal review of the government's standards for race and ethnicity statistics to help ensure they "better reflect the diversity of the American people". The review is expected to be completed by the Summer of 2024.
Until then, OMB is asking for members of the public to weigh in on the matter with their feedback by 12 April. The working group says the information will be factored into their final recommendations.
The census, which is required every 10 years, maps out the US population and details its demographic features.
In 1997, OMB guidance decided against adding the Mena category and instead reported data collected on individuals from the Mena region within its "White" reference category.
In 2015, the bureau tested a Mena category for the 2020 census, and in 2017 recommended adding the category. But the administration of US President Donald Trump overruled the recommendation.
Last year, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Carolyn Maloney sent a letter to the OMB and the US Census Bureau, urging them to update the standards for the federal data collection on race and ethnicity to include a Mena response category.
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