BERWYN, Ill. – Residents of Middle Eastern and North African descent will be better recognized and have more equitable access to important state programs and resources under a new law enacted by state Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, D-Bridgeview, making Illinois the first state to officially recognize Arab Americans and minority groups from the Middle East.
“I am proud that Illinois is paving the way for Arab Americans to be counted,” said Rashid, the first Palestinian-American elected to the Illinois State Legislature. “This information will help our state develop policies that address the unique needs of the Arab American community, such as access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. Additionally, it will allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of Arabs and other groups from the Middle East and help to combat racism and prejudice.”
In Illinois and across the country, statistical racial data is used to understand different groups and communities and to inform programs, funding, and policy. However, Arab Americans are often categorized as white, which has been a barrier to studying and addressing the unique challenges experienced by the Arab community. Furthermore, Arab Americans have historically been excluded from equity-based programs designed to uplift historically underserved minority populations. A recent study by the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois Chicago shows that Arab Americans have lower household median incomes, higher rates of unemployment, and higher rates of being housing-cost-burdened compared to Chicagoland residents overall.
Rashid’s House Bill 3768 will address longstanding concerns of the Arab American community by ensuring that the MENA racial category is used on official state government forms, studies and reports. This paves the way for minorities from the Middle East to be counted, and equips institutions, advocates and policymakers with important data to support the needs of these communities.
Rashid’s bill was signed into law last week.