Minnesota nonprofit studies attitudes in Muslim community over census

U.S. Census 2020 logo
U.S. Census 2020 logo
Courtesy of U.S. Census Bureau

A Minnesota nonprofit organization is gathering input from the Muslim community about the 2020 U.S. Census amid discussions over whether to require people to answer a question about citizenship.

The survey is conducted by Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, which promotes civic engagement among Muslim women.

Nausheena Hussain, executive director for the nonprofit, is of Indian descent and says unlike most demographic surveys, the census captures the most accurate data about a racially diverse Muslim population.

“Nobody even knows that I'm Indian, everybody just assumes that I'm Somali wherever I go, which is already the wrong race, but the fact that my identity is being erased,” she said. “And then when I have to fill out other demographic surveys I can only pick Asian.”

But Hussain says various Asian identities have different life experiences and that specific datasets about those identities don’t exist anywhere else. The census form offers people space to specify identity under each race category, whether it’d be Hmong, Pakistani or Laotian.

A diverse Muslim population could suffer from lack of participation after President Trump tried to get a citizenship question on the census form, Hussain said. Reduced participation in the census can affect congressional representation and federal funding.

"We're trying to help people understand: Here is one more space where your identity can be a little bit more truer,” Hussain added. “We've never seen that many categories anywhere else."

Research shows immigrant communities have historically avoided participating in the census, and advocates are concerned the controversy over the citizenship question could affect the data gathered.

The administration has said adding a citizenship question was intended to enforce the Voting Rights Act. But the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the question from being added to the form. Trump later said he would continue to pursue information about citizenship status through other data sets.

“The Muslim ban is also, I think, what has really scared people,” Hussain said, referring to the 2017 travel ban that blocked people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S. “The citizenship question may not be on there right now, but the pain and the fear has already been instilled.”

Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment plans to seek input over the next month.

Correction (Aug. 2, 2019): An earlier version of this story misspelled Nausheena Hussain’s name.

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