Illinois legislator proposes designating Arabs as ‘minority’ to qualify for state contracts

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Updated 22 April 2022

Illinois legislator proposes designating Arabs as ‘minority’ to qualify for state contracts

Illinois legislator proposes designating Arabs as ‘minority’ to qualify for state contracts
  • ‘It’s not only about securing contracts with government but getting jobs and resources for schools,’ says Rep. Cyril Nichols
  • ‘Arab-Americans pay their taxes, are law abiding citizens, yet are excluded from the US Census, and various benefits,’ argues Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce

CHICAGO: Illinois Rep. Cyril Nichols has said he will introduce legislation in the state’s General Assembly to add Arab business members as a recognized minority, giving them an improved opportunity to compete for billions of dollars in contracts.

Nichols, during an appearance on the Ray Hanania Radio Show Wednesday, said the “Minority Set-Aside” program requires that at least 20 percent of state contracts be awarded to businesses owned by minorities, a category that currently includes Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders, and women.

Similar laws have already been approved by other states including Michigan, Nichols argued.

“I wanted to make sure the Arab community gets the respect that the other communities want in day-to-day operations in this country,” Nichols said.

“So, I was approached and they said is it possible that you can look at making sure we get the minority status. I said yes, let me look at it. In Detroit Michigan, one of the largest populations of Arab Americans they have this status ... We realized they had legislation in place. We took the same legislation and I said to my staff, look at this and see if this is what we are looking at.”

Nichols said the issue of approving the minority designation for Arab-American entrepreneurs came up while he was addressing a gathering of Arabs and Muslims during an open-air prayer meeting at SeatGeek Stadium in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview.

“Many Arabs and Muslims came up to me asking for help. I told them, I am not only here to represent your voice, but I am also here to bring proper respect to your community. And I decided to do what I can to help them,” Nichols said.

Nichols explained the purpose of the Minority Set-Aside program was to give ethnic and national groups, that are often excluded, the opportunity to compete for contracts on a level playing field.

“That’s my job to represent the Arab community, the Black community, the White community, the Irish Community. I am representing the district. We have a very diverse district,” Nichols said.

“Everybody must be respected regardless of culture, regardless of race. Everybody has an opportunity and this actually gives you guys opportunity … to get help.”

The Minority Set-Aside program was first introduced by states in the 1960s to help ethnic groups that have been marginalized from state government contracts primarily Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and women.

It’s not only about securing contracts with government, Nichols explained. “It’s about getting jobs. There is a Set-Aside for jobs for minority groups. There are resources for schools.”

Arabs, he acknowledged, have been among the most marginalized in America. In addition to often being the target of racism and discrimination, Arabs are not included in the US Census which determines an ethnic community’s political power base. They are often excluded from being appointed to top government agencies.

Nichols said that must change and every ethnic and religious and racial group must be all on the same “equal level.”

Nichols said he has support from other legislators and the bill will be presented for consideration at an upcoming meeting.

“I have sent it over to the chamber and they asked for it. And they are looking over it with their lawyers and right now they say it is a thumbs up and it is ready to go. I will be talking to a couple of people (legislators) the rest of this week and then we will file it,” Nichols said. The bill only needs the support of a majority of the 118 members of the State House, the Senate, before being signed into law by the governor, he said.

“It actually opens the door for a lot of services. It opens the door to be counted in the census. The right way, the proper way. It opens the door for contract negotiations. Now you can go MBW. There are so many doors that will open with this simple legislation which (has) already been done in Michigan.”

Nichols emphasized that Arabs who do not want to compete as a minority group for state contracts can continue to apply and compete with the larger business community, adding: “I am going to fight to get it passed.”

Nichols has a long history of helping communities in need. He served as a former executive director of the YMCA, and as the coordinator for the Chicago Youth Centers before being appointed to the Illinois General Assembly on April 8, 2021 representing the 32nd District. Nichols also worked for the Cabrini Green community base organization, Park District, Cunningham Children’s home, Benedictine University, University of St. Francis, as well as City Colleges of Chicago.

Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, which has fought to defend the rights of more than 150 Arab businesses that were closed last summer by Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said that the minority designation to qualify for state contracts is welcomed by the community.

“Arab-Americans pay their taxes. They are law-abiding citizens of this country and this state and yet we are excluded from the US Census, and marginalized by local and state governments who exclude us from the benefits that we pay for through our taxes and our hard work,” Nijem said.

“We deserve the opportunity to receive contracts for our businesses so that we can share in the state government pie that everyone else enjoys except us.”

If the bill is approved by a majority of the state’s House members, it would then be sent to the Senate’s 59 members for approval before being sent to the governor to be signed into law.

The Ray Hanania Radio Show, hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast each week live on Wednesdays in Detroit, Washington D.C., Ontario and rebroadcast on Thursday in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080 radio. For more information on the show and podcasts visit

Listen to the Ray Hanania podcast here.