Tlaib, Dingell Lead Joint Congressional Public Comment on Adding MENA Category to Census

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-12) and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-06) led 20 of their colleagues in a joint congressional public comment letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to end the systemic erasure of the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) community. The Congressmembers’ public comment supports the OMB’s proposed revisions to Statistical Policy Directive Number 15 that would require all federal entities to include a MENA response category whenever collecting demographic data, including on the U.S. Census.

“We write to urge the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and OMB’s Interagency Technical Working Group (ITWG) to ensure the final rule to revise Directive 15 adds a MENA response category as well as a combined race and ethnicity question to the minimum standards for federal data on race and ethnicity,” wrote the members.

MENA Americans currently face the systemic erasure of their community at the federal level, where federal policies and statutes wrongly categorize them as “white” as opposed to recognizing them as their own unique community. This erasure has serious negative consequences for the health and wellbeing of MENA Americans. Because MENA Americans are officially still considered “white” in the eyes of the federal government, they do not have access to any of the specialized resources that other historically marginalized communities have benefitted from.

“Directive 15 has provided a pathway to allow the federal government to better fulfill the promise of equal protection and equal opportunity to all Americans. However, some historically underserved populations are still regrettably precluded from exercising their civil rights without access to federal data. This has long been the case for Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) individuals, whose data has been aggregated under the “white” reference category since the OMB issued its 1977 standards,” the members continued.

The letter comes after Rep. Tlaib—along with Reps. Dingell, Eshoo, and Kelly—re-introduced The Health Equity and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Community Inclusion Act which would amend the Public Health Service Act of 1944 by adding “Middle Easterners and North Africans” to the definition of “racial and ethnic minority groups,” making MENA Americans eligible for public health resources targeted towards historically marginalized groups for the first time.

The letter was signed by Representatives Nanette Barragán (CA-44); Jamaal Bowman (NY-16); Cori Bush (MO-01); Greg Casar (TX-35); Danny Davis (IL-07); Lloyd Doggett (TX-37); John Garamendi (CA-08); Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18); Pramila Jayapal (WA-07); Hank Johnson (GA-04); Barbara Lee (CA-12); Zoe Lofgren (CA-18); Betty McCollum (MN-04); Kevin Mullin (CA-15); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Ilhan Omar (MN-05); Jan Schakowsky (IL-09); Melanie Stansbury (NM-01); Shri Thanedar (MI-13); and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12).

The full text of the letter can be found here.

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