Approximately a third of Khmer, Hmong, and Lao households are limited-English proficient


Washington (July 8, 2019) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Ranking Member of its East Asia Subcommittee, was joined today by 18 Senate colleagues in calling on the U.S. Census Bureau to include Khmer, Hmong, and Lao among the languages supported by the Internet Self-Response (ISR) and Census Questionnaire Assistance (CQA) options for the 2020 Census.  While current census data accounts for English-speaking households among these southeast Asian communities, the Senators’ letter points out that it does not accurately reflect the number of community members who require additional language support.  


“In particular, Cambodian, Hmong, and Lao communities face unique challenges due to their refugee experience and lack of institutional support that has resulted in decades of unaddressed intergenerational poverty, limited English proficiency, and trauma many faced during the Vietnam War making many elders and community members especially difficult to reach,” write the Senators in the letter to U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham. “They need comprehensive support to ensure they are counted, regardless of whether they meet the 60,000 limited-English-proficient thresholds. Offering additional language support tools is a necessary step to ensure an accurate count of these hard-to-reach populations, which will bear on the future availability of vital public resources for their communities.”


A copy of the letter can be found HERE.


Southeast Asian refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos comprise the largest refugee population ever to resettle in the United States, and these communities currently number close to three million people. Roughly 35 percent of Cambodian households, 32 percent of Hmong households, and 33 percent of Laotian households are limited-English proficient households. Additionally, more than 14 percent of all Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian communities live in poverty, making them difficult to reach and hard to count.


The letter is also signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jacky Rosen (D-N.V.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).


“We thank Sen. Markey for his leadership in working to ensure that Southeast Asian American refugee and immigrant communities aren't ignored during the upcoming 2020 Census,” said Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC).“By providing additional census translation and removing potential language access barriers, Southeast Asian American families would get the support they need to fill out the questionnaire, get accurately counted, and receive the government resources and political representation they deserve.”