Responding to the Census: What You Need to Know

Learn how to fill out the census online, what language resources are available, and how to answer questions about race and ethnicity.

By Beth Lynk, Suher Adi, and Amber Nguyen

The census is a vital data collecting tool that enables us to have data on communities to better serve them and provide them with the resources they need. It also gives underrepresented groups a voice by allowing their members to be visible.

Recognizing the significance of an accurate count, many organizations have created resources to help community members fill out the census form in their preferred language. Read on to learn how to fill out your census online and how to access language resources.

NOTE: The following hotlines have been launched to aid with language accessibility. You can call any of these numbers to ask questions in your preferred language.

Arab American Institute (Bilingual hotline in English and Arabic):

○ (833)-333–6864

○ (833)-3DDOUNI (“Count me” in Arabic)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and APIAVote

○ (844)-2020-API

○ (844)-202–0274

This hotline is available in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali/Bangla.

NALEO Educational Fund (Bilingual hotline in English and Spanish):

○ (877)-EL-CENSO

○ (877)-352–3676

Once you are on the www.my2020census.gov website, click on the language with which you prefer to answer the form. The form is available in 13 languages, including Arabic. Select “Start Questionnaire,” and login using your unique code. (Recall that households will be mailed a unique 12-digit code in mid March. This code will help you begin filling out the form to your address, although you can still start the form without it).

You will then be prompted to answer four categories of questions: address verification, household questions, people questions, and final questions. Household and people questions include those about the people who live with you and the make-up of your household, like their birthdays, sex, age, and race. Final questions provide you an opportunity to ensure members of your household were accurately counted before submitting the questionnaire. Be sure to confirm the information is correct, because you cannot edit the form after submitting it.

NOTE: The form must be completed in one sitting. If there is inactivity for 15 minutes, you’ll receive a notification that the session will end at the 13 minute mark. Once the session ends, you’ll have to restart the form from the beginning.

The first part of the question asks whether a person is of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” You should check off the category you believe represents you.

In addition, it is imperative that you write in your family’s ethnic origin. Examples include Lebanese, Egyptian, Palestinian, and Yemeni. This specification is important to ensure an accurate count of our diverse communities.

For instance, if someone of Palestinian and Syrian descent is filling out the census, he/she/they may check the box, “No, not of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” They may then check off “Some other race” and write in “Palestinian, Syrian.”

If someone were of Somali descent, he/she/they may also check the box, “No, not of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” They may also check off their race as “Black or African Am” and write in “Somali.”

Lastly, if someone were of Iraqi and Venezuelan descent, he/she/they may check off “Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” and write in “Venezuelan.” They may then check off the box, “Some other race,” and write in “Iraqi.”

What is my data used for? How confidential is census data?

Census data must be accurate, since it is used to determine $1.5 trillion in federal funding, such as Medicaid and Head Start; to help businesses and local governments make decisions; to conduct research; and to determine political power such as through reapportionment, redistricting, and enforcing civil rights and voting legislation.

In addition to the traditional paper and phone methods of response, the online response portal may pose barriers to individuals who may lack internet access. We also understand concerns about data security and privacy.

Under Title 13 of U.S. Code, all Bureau employees — who are the only people allowed to see your data — must protect census data. Violations of this oath may result in 5 years of prison and a $250,000 fine. Because Title 13 is the most protected data provision, we are confident that your provided data is secured. Differential privacy measures have also been implemented to ensure your data is not “personally identifiable.” That is, the Bureau adds numbers to the data, trading off extreme accuracy with privacy, while still maintaining general representation.

The Importance of the Census to Arabic Speakers

While the online and phone methods of response are available in Arabic, the Bureau has yet to produce the paper questionnaire in Arabic, despite the fact that Arabic is one of the fastest growing languages in the U.S. More specifically, the number of Arabic speakers in the U.S. has grown 42% between 2010 and 2017, making it the sixth most spoken language in the U.S. Among those who speak Arabic at home, 37 percent are not proficient in English.

We must continue advocating for the reproduction of these census forms in Arabic, as well as for the creation of a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) category on the questionnaire. These two implementations will help capture more accurate data on the growing Arab American community. Everyone counts, and everyone should have equal opportunities to be counted.

Census Resources

The following resources provide more information about how to respond to the 2020 Census:

  1. Yalla, Count Me In! Race & Ethnicity Response Sheet. — This resource helps explain how Arab Americans can respond to the race and ethnicity portion of the form in the absence of a MENA category.
  2. Census Counts, New America, Internet Self Response Factsheet
  3. CountUsIn2020: How Do I Respond to the 2020 Census and What Does it Ask Me? Factsheet
  4. The Hispanic Origin and Race Questions in Census 2020 Webinar
  5. The Census Bureau’s How the Census Will Invite Everyone to Respond Factsheet

Watch the webinar here. For more resources, go to CountUsIn2020.org.

Beth Lynk is director of the Census Counts campaign at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Suher Adi is a Policy and Campaign Specialist at the Arab American Institute. Amber Nguyen was a policy intern at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.

Fighting for civil rights for all and working to empower #AAPIs to participate in our democracy. Follow: @johncyangdc @tao_minnis @meganessaheb