Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, joined 17 of their 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 many members of these southeast Asian communities, the senators’ letter points out that many members of these communities would benefit from additional translation support in order to be accurately counted.

“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,” the senators wrote 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.”

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. According to the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, there are 20,078 Cambodians, 2,343 Hmong, and 10,042 Laotians living in Washington state. Nationwide, 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.

In addition to Murray and Cantwell, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

The full text of the letter is available HERE.