Hard-to-count Arab Americans Urged to Prioritize Census

Hard-to-count Arab Americans Urged to Prioritize Census

Associated Press on May 03, 2020, released this account on Hard-to-count Arab Americans Urged to Prioritize Census. It is about an easy to notice a change in the US population that is taking time to translate into an administratively operational procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of the newly established community originating mainly from the Middle East.


DEARBORN, MICH. – At a Michigan gas station, the message is obvious — at least to Arabic speakers: Be counted in the 2020 census.

A billboard highlighting the 2020 Census is seen in Dearborn, Michigan, April 30, 2020.

“Provide your community with more/additional opportunities,” the ad on the pump handle reads in Arabic. In the fine print, next to “United States Census 2020,” it adds: “To shape your future with your own hands, start here.”

As state officials and nonprofit groups target hard-to-count groups like immigrants, people of color and those in poverty, many Arab Americans say the undercount is even more pronounced for them. That means one of the largest and most concentrated Arab populations outside the Middle East — those in the Detroit area — could be missing out on federal funding for education, health care, crime prevention and other programs that the census determines how to divvy up.

That also includes money to help states address the fallout from the Coronavirus.

“We are trying to encourage people not just to fill it out because of all the reasons we had given before, where there’s education and health care and all of that, but also because it is essential for the federal government to know who is in Michigan at this point more than ever before,” said Rima Meroueh, director of policy and advocacy with Dearborn-based ACCESS, one of the largest Arab American advocacy nonprofits in the country.  

The Arab American community checks many boxes that census and nonprofit officials say are hallmarks of the hardest-to-count communities: large numbers of young children, non-English speakers, recent immigrants and those who often live in multifamily or rental housing.

Arabs arrived en masse to the U.S. as the auto industry ramped up and worker demand grew. By the time those jobs began to decline in more recent decades, communities with strong Middle Eastern cultural roots had been firmly established in the Detroit area. It has remained a destination for people from across the Middle East fleeing conflict, reconnecting with family or simply seeking a better life. Even those who resettle elsewhere often first make their way to Detroit and surrounding cities.

Advocates have pressed ahead with “get out the count” campaigns despite restrictions designed to curb COVID-19. The pandemic has forced the Census Bureau to push back its deadline for finishing the 2020 count from the end of July to the end of October. It’s also asking Congress for permission to delay deadlines next year for giving census data to the states so they can draw new voting maps.

With the changes, ACCESS is stepping up its social media effort, mirroring it to focus as much on the once-a-decade count as their offices, which had been plastered with census posters, Meroueh said.  

“If you check out our social media, it’s very census-heavy,” she said.  

But groups face a hurdle after the Trump administration decided not to include a category that counts people from the Middle East or North Africa as their own group. The Census Bureau recommended the so-called MENA box in 2017 after years of research and decades of advocacy.

A gas pump message is obvious — at least to Arabic speakers: Be counted in the 2020 census, April 30, 2020.
A gas pump message is obvious — at least to Arabic speakers: Be counted in the 2020 census, April 30, 2020.

The decision to scrap the choice angers many Arab Americans, who say it hinders representation and needed funding. Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, an Arab American representing part of Detroit and several suburbs, expressed her displeasure while questioning Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham on Capitol Hill in February.

“The community did it right — they went through the process,” she said. “You’re making us invisible.”

Dillingham said the form would have a write-in box, allowing people to describe their ethnicity. It falls short for Tlaib, but Matthew Jaber Stiffler, a University of Michigan lecturer and research and content manager at the Arab American National Museum, said it’s better than nothing. Advocates will have to push harder to get people counted, he said.

“The onus is on community organizations, and local and state governments to get the people to complete the form, because it doesn’t say, ‘Are you Middle Eastern or North African?'” Stiffler said. “We’ll get really good data if enough people fill it out.”

Even though the MENA option isn’t there, Stiffler says census officials did preparatory work for it. If someone writes “Syrian” on their form, for instance, Stiffler has been told that the census will code that within the larger MENA ancestry group.

That’s precisely what Abdullah Haydar did when he filled out his census form electronically, which he said took five minutes.

“I definitely filled it out as soon as I got it. I believe in representation,” said Haydar, a 44-year-old from Canton Township, Michigan, who works in LinkedIn’s software engineering department.

But support for the census isn’t unanimous. Some in the Arab community have raised concerns about government questions over their citizenship status if they participate, though that is not part of the form. Many have reported extra scrutiny since the Trump administration issued a ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries in 2017 — creating an overall chilling effect when it comes to interacting with the government.

“They don’t trust the current administration. They don’t trust what they’re going to do with the information. And when you look at the the so-called Muslim ban that was put in, people don’t want to be on the government’s radar,” said Haydar, who assisted some elderly relatives in filling out their forms.

“I just told them, ‘Look, yes, there may be abuses. There’s always a risk of that. This administration seems to be pushing boundaries. But at the end of the day, this is the basis of our system of government, for people to count,'” he said.

Associated Press writer Mike Schneider contributed from Orlando, Florida.

Egypt to lose 1000 km of sandy coasts due to erosion

Egypt to lose 1000 km of sandy coasts due to erosion

Erosion of sandy beaches will endanger wildlife, cause massive losses in coastal cities in the world. Mohammed El-Said, in his Egypt related article titled Egypt to lose 1000 km of sandy coasts due to erosion: Study is by any means not exaggerating the potential impact of climate change on Egypt. The country’s habitable space is very limited to 5 per cent. The rest of the land is uninhabitable desert. The population, therefore, concentrated around the narrow Nile Valley and Nile Delta, with some smaller numbers along the Mediterranean and the Red Sea coasts would want to preserve as much as possible of the seafront.


The world’s beaches represent an interface between land and water, and provide protection for coasts from marine storms and hurricanes, but a new study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre indicates that without mitigating the effects of climate change and adapting to it, half of the world’s beaches will be vulnerable to erosion by the end of the century.

Erosion of sandy beaches will endanger wildlife and may cause heavy losses in coastal cities that no longer have buffer zones to protect them from rising sea levels and severe storms. In addition, coastal erosion increases the cost of governmental measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In the study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers expect erosion to destroy 36,097 km, or 13.6% of sandy coasts around the world, including the Egyptian coast, within 30 years. The situation is expected to worsen in the second half of the century as 9,561 km, equivalent to 25.7% of the world’s beaches are estimated to be eroded.

Eroding scenarios

The study provides forecasts of the shoreline’s shape between the years 2050 and 2100. It links changes in the shoreline directly to climate change based on the concentration of greenhouse gases according to the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Thus, the study aims to calculate shoreline changes globally based on the ratio of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In the latest report of the IPCC in 2019, scientists studied the greenhouse gas concentration pathway and expect that, by 2100, if countries in the world do not comply with the terms of the Paris climate agreement, average global sea levels will rise between 61 centimeters to about one meter.

Researchers relied on climate data, models, 82 years’ worth of sea level monitoring, and 35 years of beach satellite imaging. They also simulated more than 100m storms and measured their global coastal erosion.

Based on the RCP of greenhouse gases, the study assumes two scenarios for melting ice surfaces. According to the first scenario, if the world continues to emit carbon at the current rate, sea levels will rise by about 80 cm, which means the coastline will decrease by 128.1 meters, and threatens to sink 131,745 km of beaches.

According to the most optimistic scenarios, sea levels will only rise by 50 cm by 2100, and the average coastline retreat will be 86.4 meters if governments adhere to international agreements to reduce emissions and reduce carbon dependence. According to the results of the study, up to 63% of the world’s low coastal areas will be threatened by flooding due to sea level rise and severe storms.

Facing waves 

“Climate change will exacerbate the effects of coastal erosion processes, which threatens densely populated areas,” said Michalis Vousdoukas, a researcher at the European Commission’s Research Centre and lead author of the study. 

He added that in the best scenarios, Egypt will lose between 35.1% to 50.5% of its sandy beaches due to erosion, which means the erosion of about 1,000 km of Egyptian sandy beaches. The percentage is likely to be even higher in countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya.

Hisham Elsafti, a coastal engineering consultant, and instructor in coastal engineering at Braunschweig Technical University in Germany, explained that according to the study’s expectations, the coasts of the Nile Delta will retreat by more than half a kilometer at the end of the century due to geological and hydromorphological factors. 

But Jeffrey S. Kargel, a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona, believes that although the methodology of the study is good and its conclusions are valid, it did not take into account some detailed changes. These changes include the sediment supply and the increase in the production and transport of sand and silt due to the increased melting glaciers, increased surface runoff of corrosion and more sediment supply from expanded agricultural areas, increased sediment supply from dam construction, and reduced sediment transport due to dams in many parts of the world.

Kargel explained that the melting glaciers do not directly affect Egypt, but affect places like Greenland and Alaska. “Construction of dams is the most important for Egypt due to the construction of the High Dam in Aswan, and then there will be a giant reservoir for the huge dam in Ethiopia,” he said. 

He added that “when the silt is blocked by reservoirs, this will be an obstacle to the construction of the delta areas, and thus the delta will drop and seawater will submerge its coast with its cities and villages, which will represent a major problem for Egypt.” But he believes that the Egyptian Delta, despite the problems it faces, is “lucky” because it is not subject to hurricanes.

A previous study by the American Geological Society, published in May 2017, indicated that Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change, and that between 20 to 40 km of the coast of the Nile River Delta will be flooded with seawater by the end of the century, due to Sea level rise.

Vousdoukas added that the UK expects to lose 27.7% of its sandy beaches, according to the best estimates, and 43.7% according to worst case scenarios. Australia is also expected to be the most affected, as about 15,000 km of its beaches are at risk, followed by Canada as one of the most affected countries, then Chile, Mexico, China, and the United States. It is also expected that more than 680 million Indian citizens living in the low-lying coastal region will be affected by the coastal erosion and climate change.

Glimmer of hope 

“The study provides first-of-its-kind forecasts regarding sand beach erosion, taking into account human interventions as well as the effects of climate change and natural factors,” said Vousdoukas. The researcher explained that there is still a glimmer of hope as it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent 40% of the coastline retreat, but this requires an international commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement and related protocols, and requires some coastal protection measures to protect populated areas.

Elsafti, however, believes that Egypt should work on two main axes to avoid the negative effects of climate change and protect the beaches. The first is the effective contribution to calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and asking major industrial countries responsible for the problem to contribute more effectively to solving the problem by increasing contributions in initiatives such as the Green Climate Fund, which is already participating in funding studies and work to protect Egyptian beaches.

“The second axis is a scientific axis, as Egypt must increase the funding of scientific studies that cross the disciplines required to find engineering solutions suitable for the Egyptian environment and prepare to change the planning of cities and coastal areas and their uses to adapt to the effects of climate change,” Elsafti said.

MENA: Renewed wave of mass uprisings met with brutality and repression

MENA: Renewed wave of mass uprisings met with brutality and repression

GettyImages

Amnesty International published MENA: Renewed wave of mass uprisings met with brutality and repression during ‘year of defiance’ on 18 February 2020. A year has now passed since Masses of Algerians surged through the capital and all other towns and villages throughout the country. It is as though nothing has happened insofar as the ruling elites are concerned. The current situation not only in this particular but all countries of the MENA is however as follows:

  • Report reviews human rights in 19 MENA states during 2019
  • Wave of protests across Algeria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon demonstrates reinvigorated faith in people power
  • 500+ killed in Iraq and over 300 in Iran in brutal crackdowns on protests
  • Relentless clampdown on peaceful critics and human rights defenders
  • At least 136 prisoners of conscience detained in 12 countries for online speech

Governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) displayed a chilling determination to crush protests with ruthless force and trample over the rights of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets to call for social justice and political reform during 2019, said Amnesty International today, publishing its annual report on the human rights situation in the region.  

Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2019 describes how instead of listening to protesters’ grievances, governments have once again resorted to relentless repression to silence peaceful critics both on the streets and online. In Iraq and Iran alone, the authorities’ use of lethal force led to hundreds of deaths in protests; in Lebanon police used unlawful and excessive force to disperse protests; and in Algeria the authorities used mass arrests and prosecutions to crack down on protesters.  Across the region, governments have arrested and prosecuted activists for comments posted online, as activists turned to social media channels to express their dissent.2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived Heba Morayef

“In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Director for MENA.

“2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived.”

The protests across MENA mirrored demonstrators taking to the streets to demand their rights from Hong Kong to Chile. In Sudan, mass protests were met with brutal crackdowns by security forces and eventually ended with a negotiated political agreement with associations who had led the protests.

Crackdown on protests on the streets

Across the MENA region authorities employed a range of tactics to repress the wave of protests – arbitrarily arresting thousands of protesters across the region and in some cases resorting to excessive or even lethal force. In Iraq and Iran alone hundreds were killed as security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators and thousands more were injured.In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments Heba Morayef

In Iraq where at least 500 died in demonstrations in 2019, protesters showed tremendous resilience, defying live ammunition, deadly sniper attacks and military tear gas grenades deployed at short range causing gruesome injuries.

In Iran, credible reports indicated that security forces killed over 300 people and injured thousands within just four days between 15 and 18 November to quell protests initially sparked by a rise in fuel prices. Thousands were also arrested and many subjected to enforced disappearance and torture.

In September, Palestinian women in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories took to the streets to protest against gender-based violence and Israel’s military occupation. Israeli forces also killed dozens of Palestinians during demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank.

“The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for MENA. “Meanwhile, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel’s policy of using excessive, including lethal, force against demonstrators there continued unabated.” The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent Philip Luther

In Algeria, where mass protests led to the fall of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power, authorities  sought to quash protests through mass arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of peaceful demonstrators.

While the mass protests in Lebanon since October, which led to the resignation of the government, began largely peacefully, on a number of occasions protests were met with unlawful and excessive force and security forces failed to intervene effectively to protect peaceful demonstrators from attacks by supporters of rival political groups.

In Egypt, a rare outbreak of protests in September which took the authorities by surprise was met with mass arbitrary arrests with more than 4,000 detained.

“Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully,” said Heba Morayef. 

“Instead of launching deadly crackdowns and resorting to measures such as excessive use of force, torture, or arbitrary mass arrests and prosecutions, authorities should listen to and address demands for social and economic justice as well as political rights.”

Repression of dissent online

As well as lashing out against peaceful protesters on the streets, throughout 2019 governments across the region continued to crack down on people exercising their rights to freedom of expression online. Journalists, bloggers and activists who posted statements or videos deemed critical of the authorities on social media faced arrest, interrogation and prosecutions. Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully Heba Morayef

According to Amnesty International’s figures, individuals were detained as prisoners of conscience in 12 countries in the region and 136 people were arrested solely for their peaceful expression online. Authorities also abused their powers to stop people accessing or sharing information online. During protests in Iran, the authorities implemented a near-total internet shutdown to stop people sharing videos and photos of security forces unlawfully killing and injuring protesters. In Egypt, authorities disrupted online messaging applications in an attempt to thwart further protests. Egyptian and Palestinian authorities also resorted to censoring websites including news websites. In Iran social media apps including Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked.

Some governments also use more sophisticated techniques of online surveillance to target human rights defenders. Amnesty’s research highlighted how two Moroccan human rights defenders were targeted using spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. The same company’s spyware had previously been used to target activists in Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as an Amnesty International staff member. 

More broadly, Amnesty International recorded 367 human rights defenders subjected to detention (240 arbitrarily detained in Iran alone) and 118 prosecuted in 2019 – the true numbers are likely to be higher.

“The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders,” said Philip Luther.

Signs of hope

Despite ongoing and widespread impunity across MENA, some small but historic steps were taken towards accountability for longstanding human rights violations. The announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that war crimes had been committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and that an investigation should be opened as soon as the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction has been confirmed offered a crucial opportunity to end decades of impunity. The ICC indicated that the investigation could cover Israel’s killing of protesters in Gaza.  The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders Philip Luther

Similarly, in Tunisia the Truth and Dignity Commission published its final report and 78 trials started before criminal courts offering a rare chance for security forces to be held accountable for past abuses.

The limited advances in women’s rights, won after years of campaigning by local women’s rights movements, were outweighed by the continuing repression of women’s rights defenders, particularly in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a broader failure to eliminate widespread discrimination against women. Saudi Arabia introduced long-overdue reforms to its male guardianship system, but these were overshadowed by the fact that five women human rights defenders remained unjustly detained for their activism throughout 2019.  Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights Heba Morayef

A number of Gulf states also announced reforms to improve protection for migrant workers including promises from Qatar to abolish its kafala (sponsorship system) and improve migrants’ access to justice. Jordan and the United Arab Emirates also signalled plans to reform the kafala system. However, migrant workers continue to face widespread exploitation and abuse across the region.

“Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights. Instead of ordering serious violations and crimes to stay in power, governments should ensure the political rights needed to allow people to express their socio-economic demands and to hold their governments to account,” said Heba Morayef.

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Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census

White? Asian? African? Chicagoans with Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) roots feel erased by census. Local groups say it’s essential for people to participate even if they don’t see a racial/ethnic category on the form that fits them. But why Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census, one wonders.

Alexis Kwan and City Bureau@city_bureau reply.

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Arab American Family Services cofounders Nareman Taha and Itedal Shalabi in their office in suburban Worth.
MAX HERMAN

On a hot Saturday in August, the parking lot of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance in West Ridge is filled with the sound of festivities. Kids jump in a bouncy house, Arabic pop music blares on the speakers, and a group of aunties chat as they watch over their charges. The organization, formerly known as the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, hosts this yearly event as a way to connect the families they serve with the rest of the immigrant community.

Children gather round a foldable plastic table with a tawula set, playing a Turkish version of backgammon popular throughout the Middle East. Among them is Asal Alshammari, 11, who lives in West Ridge with her grandparents and sister. She immigrated to America with the rest of her Iraqi family after living in Dubai for nine years. Since moving to Chicago, Alshammari has been puzzled by the way Americans categorize race. “I identify myself as Middle Eastern, but [on school forms] it says I’m white, and that’s kind of confusing,” she says.

Sometimes she’ll even whip out her smartphone to show other kids at school exactly where Iraq is located: western Asia. “If someone says, ‘Oh, you’re white,’ I tell them ‘No, I’m Asian.’ But they’re always like, ‘What? You don’t seem Asian,’ because I have blue eyes from my grandpa,” she says. Alshammari wishes there were a box that was a better fit for people from countries like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and she’s not alone.

As the 2020 U.S. Census approaches, local groups are working to ensure there’s an accurate count of their communities. But the census has never included any racial or ethnic category for Middle Eastern or North African communities. That, along with the current climate of fear surrounding immigration status, is a big challenge for folks hoping a full census count can help the community build political representation and gain access to crucial social services.

More than 20 years ago, when the federal government made major changes to the way race and ethnicity are reported on official forms, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget recommended additional testing on a category that would be called Middle Eastern North African, or MENA. Without a MENA option on the form, people from this region usually chose the white category, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Race and Ethnicity Analysis.

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Ekram Hanna of the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society
MAX HERMAN

In a 2015 community forum held by census officials to discuss the MENA category, participants indicated that “MENA responses should not be classified as White. They thought classifying this group as White makes them invisible in the data, even though they face discrimination in many aspects of society.”

With the support of advocacy groups like the Arab American Institute, the census bureau began testing a potential MENA category addition in 2015, and in 2017 released preliminary results that stated, “The use of a distinct Middle Eastern or North African category appears to elicit higher quality data for people who would identify with MENA.”

Despite all this, the bureau announced in 2018 that a MENA category would not be included in the 2020 census, claiming that “more research and testing is needed” since some in the MENA community felt that the designation should be treated as an ethnicity rather than a race.

“Some of us identify as white, some as Brown, some as Black,” says Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “We don’t necessarily need a category that reduces us to one race, but we do need visibility, inclusion, and to be seen as a group of Americans with needs and not just the focus of counterterrorism programs or political bigotry.”

With the decision made, local groups serving MENA residents in the Chicago region are now focused on ensuring that their community participates, period.

An accurate count is essential, they say, since census numbers determine the allocation of funding for services like cultural diversity training for institutions that interact with the community. Though federal funding formulas are complex, a George Washington University study in 2018 estimated that for every Illinois resident not counted, the state would lose $840 in Medicaid funding.

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Fouzia Othman works with a client at the Arab American Family Services office. Case managers help community members with translating mail, applying for WIC and SNAP benefits, immigration paperwork, and other needs.
MAX HERMAN

In Cook County, where an estimated 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern, North African, or Southwest Asian descent according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, outreach efforts are beginning. It won’t be easy, says Imelda Salazar, an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, noting that many MENA residents are descended from immigrants or are immigrants themselves. Salazar says outreach to immigrants in general is difficult given the Trump administration’s policies, including increased restrictions on who can seek asylum and the executive order restricting entry of foreign nationals from some Muslim-majority countries.

“We give a lot of know-your-rights trainings and we tell people, Do not open the door [for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents],” she says, which makes it hard to allay their anxiety about opening the door for census workers. To try to dissipate these fears, SWOP precedes many of its workshops with a conversation about current deportation and detention issues and then talks about the legally mandated confidentiality of U.S. Census data. Salazar emphasizes that “fear won’t take us anywhere” and that if “we really want to build power, we need to be counted.”

Distrust of the federal government is particularly salient in the sizable Arab American community of Bridgeview, a southwest suburb. In the 2018 documentary The Feeling of Being Watched, Bridgeview native Assia Boundaoui uncovered evidence that Muslim residents were under FBI surveillance as far back as 1985 as part of a counterintelligence effort known as Operation Vulgar Betrayal.

With Trump administration policies like the public charge rule and the Muslim ban, some people have become wary even of receiving public benefits, according to Nareman Taha, cofounder of Arab American Family Services, a nonprofit social service agency in the southwest suburbs. They’re afraid the government is collecting their personal information through the institutions that dole out benefits.

“Clients would come and say, ‘Close my file. I don’t want anything from the government. I don’t want food stamps. I don’t want medical cards,'” she says. “And these are people who are working poor, they’re eligible. . . . Imagine that detriment and the impact that had on families.”

Chicagoans with MENA roots feel erased by census
Samir Alomar at the Festival on Devon in September. Alomar, who performs classical Arabic music and is originally from Syria, came to Chicago’s West Ridge community two years ago after spending four years in a refugee camp in Turkey with his family.
MAX HERMAN

To counteract that fear, groups like AAFS are relying on the relationships and trust built over years working within communities.

AAFS founded the Arab American Complete Count Committee, which meets at their office, and they are local members of the national Yalla Count Me In campaign—both are aimed at increasing census participation. AAFS is asking people to mark the “other” box on the form and write in “Arab” or their country of origin, in the hopes that when the Census Bureau reevaluates the MENA category there will be evidence to support its inclusion. Other groups, like the Arab American Action Network, say they have not yet decided what to recommend; they’re planning more conversations with community and national partners before making a decision.

Though race and ethnicity data in the census are rarely tied directly to federal funding, local organizations say that if the data were available, it could help them raise money from other sources and draw publicity for their work.

When Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network raises funds for the group’s work to protect youth against discrimination in schools, he says government representatives and donors will ask questions like, “What are the academic levels? How do they do in school? What are their literacy rates?”

“We were in a coalition with Black and Latino organizations, and they all had these stats about how Black and Latino kids were being suspended and expelled from school at much higher rates than whites for the same alleged activities,” he explains. “And we didn’t have any numbers for the Arab kids, even though anecdotally we knew that those things were happening to Arabs as well.”

Taha, at AAFS, says most of their funds come from state government, corporations, foundations, and private donors. The group has been encouraging local universities and other nonprofits to collect data using the MENA category to help them make the case for the services they provide, like domestic violence prevention and immigration legal consultation. One funder, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, did just that, adding a MENA category to collect better health data statewide.

Some organizations rely on their own surveys or draw noncensus data from sources like Chicago Public Schools. CPS conducts an annual survey asking what languages are spoken in students’ homes, and Arabic was the third-most common non-English language in 2019, preceded only by Spanish and Cantonese, according to data City Bureau received through a public records request.

Laura Youngberg says the census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves.”
MAX HERMAN

Laura Youngberg, the executive director of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance, says her group was able to use CPS data to advocate for federal and state grants that support its youth and family services. “It’s a battle of like going back to the state and saying, your data is wrong,” she says. “This is the correct data [from the school district]. This is why we deserve to have funding.”

The census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves,” Youngberg says. Better data around MENA communities could improve language access for Arabic-speaking people, increase visibility and political representation, and contribute to a larger sense of belonging.

Beyond the census, Taha wants to push for the MENA category at the state level, asking newly elected governor J.B. Pritzker, “How would you recognize the Arab American community? I mean, you came to us when you needed our votes.” Now, more than ever, her community needs to be counted.   

Sarah Conway contributed reporting.

This report was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at citybureau.org.

More from Chicago Reader: NewscensusimmigrationMiddle Eastern and North AfricanMENAwhiteIraqSyriaLibya

NB: The top picture is of The Arab Weekly that touched on the subject of How significant is rejection of MENA category from the 2020 US census? back in March 2018. MENA-Forum published many articles on how immigrant populations are treated in their host countries.

UN urges organic carbon conservation

UN urges organic carbon conservation

Global warming or climate change is threatening the fate of oases in the Sahara Desert as affected by the noticeable advancing sands along the edges of all habitable spaces in the MENA region.  With almost 90 per cent of its lands being arid and/or semi-arid, the region’s countries must be following the 14th edition of the COP on the fight against desertification. This being held in New Delhi, India, from 2 September through to 13 September, the UN urges soil organic carbon conservation to fight desertification whereby UNCCD’s member countries must proactively prevent land degradation reports Ranjit Devraj in this article below.

UN urges organic carbon conservation
MENA climate map – pinterest.com

[NEW DELHI] Soil organic carbon (SOC) must be proactively conserved to prevent land degradation, says a science-policy interface report released at the 14th Conference of the Parties (CoP14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) ongoing (2–13 September) in the Indian capital.

According to the UNCCD, 70 per cent of the world’s forests are now threatened by conversion to cropland and urbanisation — processes that greatly deplete SOC, a measurable component of soil organic matter and key to soil productivity. Particularly at risk are tropical forests, which declined at the rate of 5.5 million hectares annually between 2010 and 2015. 

“This report will help member countries of the Convention identify sustainable land management technologies that are context-specific and also help estimate and monitor SOC for achieving land degradation neutrality and other sustainable development goals (SDGs),” Barron Joseph Orr, lead scientist for the UNCCD, tells SciDev.Net. 

“The UNCCD report on SOC is especially important for South Asia because [of] its many and varied agro-climatic zones, each requiring specific interventions to prevent loss of SOC and retain moisture in the soil to nourish vegetation roots”

Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People

SOC, according to Orr, has direct relevance to all three Rio conventions: the UNCCD, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
An important component of the global carbon cycle, SOC brings multiple co-benefits which support not only the SDG on building a land degradation-neutral world but also the SDGs on achieving zero hunger, good health and sanitation, climate action and gender equality.

“Because of its multifunctional roles and its sensitivity to land management, SOC is one of the three main global indicators of land degradation neutrality, the other two being land cover and land productivity,” says Ermias Aynekulu, an author of the report. “SOC, made up largely of decomposing animal and plant matter, is key to drought resistance, soil stability and organic crop production.”

The report proposes to encourage parties to the UNCCD to employ sustainable land management technologies to maintain or increase SOC, align SOC monitoring with national land degradation neutrality monitoring and share the guidance offered with farmers and other land managers. 

According to the report, the management of SOC to support land degradation neutrality achievement will be most effective if it promotes the following: gender equality and inclusive development, empowerment of women to invest in natural resources, and capacity building of local institutions.

Emphasis is laid on an accurate assessment of SOC since national capacities to measure and monitor are highly variable. It proposes that efforts be made to enhance the capacity of countries for spatio-temporal measurement and modelling of SOC to address data gaps and limitations in tools and models currently being used.

A spatio-temporal study carried out by EnvirometriX Ltd, Wageningen, the Netherlands, indicates that the greatest loss of SOC over the 2000–2015 period took place in the northern hemisphere followed by Brazil, Central Africa and Indonesia, where large swathes of natural forests have been converted to croplands.

A science policy brief accompanying the report offers ‘decision trees’ to guide efforts to predict change in SOC under different land management practices. It also seeks to support decision-makers to pursue the right interventions in the “right locations at the right time and at the right scale” with the overall goal of land degradation neutrality achievement.

According to Marioldy Sanchez Santivañez, an observer to the UNCCD science-policy interface and forest evaluator for AIDER, a Peruvian NGO, developing and reinforcing capacities for soil sampling and implementing measurement and monitoring, as outlined in the report, “has the potential to contribute greatly to restoring soil carbon in many of the world’s land-degraded areas”. 

Among the simple tools now available to evaluate SOC is the open-access Soil Organic Carbon App  developed by researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. The app can determine the amount of sequestered SOC and also assess the impact of good conservation practices over time.

Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a Delhi-based NGO, says that retaining SOC is vital for South Asia, a peninsula which is estimated to lose 80 per cent of the rainfall it receives to the sea, leaching away valuable organic carbon and contributing greatly to desertification. “This is an area that [needs] urgent attention since more than 30 per cent of the landmass is now degraded.”

The Indian sub-continent is particularly vulnerable. A study published in May by Science Direct said at least a third of the area around 18 river basins of the Indian sub-continent have become vulnerable to ‘vegetation droughts’, indicating drastic loss of soil moisture.

“The UNCCD report on SOC is especially important for South Asia because [of] its many and varied agro-climatic zones, each requiring specific interventions to prevent loss of SOC and retain moisture in the soil to nourish vegetation roots,” Thakkar tells SciDev.Net. “All that remains is for the governments to pick up the detailed guidelines and decision trees in the report and follow them.”   

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.

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