Sat, Jul 31, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US Arabs express concern over use of census figures


The US Census Bureau has provided specially tabulated population statistics on Arab-Americans to the Department of Homeland Security, including detailed information on how many people of Arab backgrounds live at certain postcodes.

The assistance is legal, but civil-liberties groups and Arab-American advocacy organizations say it is a dangerous breach of public trust and liken it to the Census Bureau's compilation of similar information about Japanese-Americans during WWII.

The figures were produced in August 2002 and last December in response to requests from what is now the Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security. One set listed cities with more than 1,000 Arab-Americans. The second, far more detailed, provided postcode breakdowns of Arab-American populations, sorted by country of origin.

The categories provided were Egyptian, Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Palestinian, Syrian and two general categories, "Arab/Arabic" and "Other Arab."

Hermann Habermann, deputy director of the Census Bureau, said such cooperation was standard practice.

"We are required to provide information to other federal agencies," he said.

"This is not a cabal calculating secret tabulations, he said."

However, Habermann also expressed concern over application of the data, adding: "We do worry about how information will be used. However, we have not been given the authority to determine which organization gets which information."

Census tabulations of specialized data are legal as long as they do not identify any individual.

Christiana Halsey, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said the requests were made to help the agency identify airports for posting signs and pamphlets in Arabic.

"The information is not in any way being used for law enforcement purposes," she said.

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