Albany Agenda

Advocates rally for MENA bill as NY session winds down

People who are Middle Eastern and North African shouldn’t be categorized as white by the state, advocates say.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, left, and Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, right

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, left, and Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, right Austin C. Jefferson

There is a renewed push to get legislation that would disaggregate data on Middle Eastern and North African New Yorkers across the finish line before the end of session in an attempt to better serve those communities, which are typically classified as “white” by the state. 

Bill sponsors State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas were joined at an Albany rally Tuesday by Assembly Members Zohran Mamdani and Steven Raga. A coalition of MENA advocacy groups present included Malikah, a women’s empowerment organization founded by former congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid.  

“You cannot advocate for a community if in the eyes of the state, that community is not even distinct, it does not even exist,” said Mamdani. 

Communities mentioned in the bill include, but are not limited to Egyptian, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and Libyan in Northern Africa, and Yemeni, Iranian, Palestinian, Iraqi,  Lebanese, Israeli, Syrian, Armenian, and Saudi in the Middle East. Mamdani added that once MENA communities are given recognition, then it would be possible to address issues around discrimination and disparities in state and social support. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a similar law in 2021 to disaggregate data about Asian Americans, tracking more specific identities, such as Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially vetoed the bill, saying that version didn’t account for funding. A spokesperson for González-Rojas said the MENA bill would be covered by funds set aside for AAPI disaggregation, but the bill text does not specify a funding source.

González-Rojas explained how after her district’s borders changed to include more of Astoria, she was shocked to see statistics claiming that her constituents were nearly a third white. 

“I know Astoria. Astoria is not 27% white,” she said. 

Members of the coalition shared that without shifts in data aggregation, COVID-19 statistics and domestic violence trends weren’t being collected to improve outcomes for their communities. Youssef Mubarez of YAMA Action, a Yemeni advocacy organization, pointed out stark differences in the experience of being a white New Yorker versus being a MENA New Yorker.

“It wasn't called the white ban right? It was the Muslim ban, and it was targeted towards our people,” said Mubarez, referencing former President Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban on majority-Muslim countries. 

While there are only a few weeks left of session, the bill is expected to pass in the state Senate and is up for a vote in the Assembly Government Operations Committee.