A partnership between the U.S. Census Bureau and an Islamic civil rights group has ended just days after it was announced, following a backlash from conservative media.
The Department of Commerce — the agency that oversees the Census Bureau — confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Council on American-Islamic Relations would no longer be a formal partner in efforts to promote Muslim American participation in the 2020 Census. Commerce Department spokesman Kevin Manning didn’t publicly offer further details.
The Muslim civil rights group, commonly referred to as CAIR, announced the partnership last Wednesday.
A nonprofit group led by journalist Steven Emerson, who has a history of making anti-CAIR statements, wrote about the partnership after it was announced. The topic was then taken up by Fox News host Tucker Carlson on his show late last week. Carlson has been the target of a boycott effort by CAIR for what the group says has been a habit of anti-Muslim statements.
Carlson said on the show that CAIR had been an unindicted co-conspirator in a Texas terrorism case more than a decade ago. CAIR and other Muslim groups have long held they were smeared by the government in the case, and a federal appeals court agreed that parts of the government’s case went too far. The Washington Post, in a 2011 story evaluating the accuracy of anti-CAIR claims by Republican congressmen, concluded, “The repeated references to CAIR being an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ is one of those true facts that ultimately gives a false impression.”
“So, just in case you’re scoring at home, here’s the state of play,” Carlson said on last Thursday’s show. “The census is not allowed to ask anyone in our country whether they’re a citizen, but they are allowed to partner with a group described as an unindicted co-conspirator to push a political agenda. Huh.” Carlson then said he had been told by Commerce Department officials that the partnership was over.
The Trump administration tried to get a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, but the question was nixed by the U.S. Supreme Court and then abandoned by President Donald Trump. Civil rights groups, including CAIR, opposed the question, saying it would have discouraged participation by minorities, primarily Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats.
Ahead of next spring’s head count of every person in the U.S., the Census Bureau is aiming to have 300,000 local and regional partners who will reach into hard-to-count communities and encourage participation in the 2020 census. The Census Bureau has other partners that represent the Muslim community.
“The Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau remain committed to reaching this and other communities to fulfill the Constitutional and civic responsibility of conducting a complete and accurate count,” Manning said in a statement.
The partnerships are crucial to the Census Bureau’s outreach and have been around for the past two decennial counts, said Kenneth Prewitt, who was a director of the Census Bureau in President Bill Clinton’s administration.
“The importance of the partners is really high,” Prewitt said. “The partners function as what we call ‘trusted voices.’ They know their neighborhood. They know their population group. We take the message to them and they take it to their constituents.”
CAIR said it would continue its effort to make sure the Muslim community participates in the decennial census.
“CAIR and the American Muslim community have been the target of Islamophobic smear campaigns for decades,” Robert McCaw, CAIR’s government affairs director, said in an email. “Despite this fact, we will continue our advocacy for justice and for inclusion of all Muslims in the 2020 Census.”
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