Ohio’s New African Immigrants Commission (NAIC) is turning its attention to the 2020 census to ensure new immigrants from the African sub-Saharan region are counted.
As an update to the Sunset Review Committee, Ibrahima Sow, one of the 11 appointed members of the commission, said NAIC is heavily invested in the 2020 Census Complete Count efforts and plans to support similar efforts across the state through the Governor’s Census Commission and local governments.
The Sunset Review Committee meets in odd-numbered General Assemblies to review the “usefulness, performance, and effectiveness” of specific agencies in state government. NAIC has been approved to continue by previous Sunset Review Committees.
“We are keenly aware of what is at risk if hard to count populations like our communities are missed,” Sow said in prepared testimony. He noted that $675 billion annually in federal tax allocation, the number of seats Ohio receives in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the determination of Congressional and state legislative districts depends on an accurate count.
NAIC was created in 2008, but no members were appointed until 2017. The commission issued its first annual report in December 2018.
“A stuttering beginning and a less than ideal funding structure have all but ensured a faltering start while the populations of Africans in the U.S. and Ohio have steadily grown,” Rosaire Ifedi, who chairs the commission, wrote in the annual report.
“Ohio’s Africa-born population has increased from 2.8 percent (or 7,059 people) in 1990 … to 14 percent (or 74,000 people) in 2017,” she continued.
Legislation creating NAIC allows it to receive grants and gifts. However, nothing in the original legislation established a location to hold any grant or gifted monies. A bill was introduced in the last session of the General Assembly to create an account in the Treasurer’s office. It was approved by the House, but did not receive any consideration in the Senate before the session ended.
No similar bill has yet been introduced in 2019, though the commission is pursuing funding. All commission members are unpaid, per the original legislation.
NAIC’s purpose is to represent and serve sub-Saharan African Ohioans. All members of the commission must be of sub-Saharan African origin, and must be American citizens or lawful, permanent, resident aliens. The sub-Saharan area includes Somalia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan and Cabo Verde.
NAIC’s annual report notes that new immigrants from these areas are “naturalizing as U.S. citizens at a rate of 54.4 percent compared to 49.3 percent for the total U.S. foreign born population.”
But there is great diversity among the immigrants. Some are “highly educated voluntary migrants” while others are “under-resourced refugees who were resettled in the state by the U.S. government.”
Approximately 70,000 of the total Africa-born Ohioans are from the sub-Saharan area. While 65 of Ohio’s counties have such immigrants, the majority live in the Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati area. Franklin County, which includes Columbus, has roughly 32,000 sub-Saharan immigrants. Ifedi chairs the African Immigrants subcommittee for the Columbus/Franklin County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee.
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