Latino activists flex their muscles in redistribution after decade of growth

After two consecutive decades in which Latinos have fueled population growth in the United States, Latino and Hispanic activist groups are demanding greater political representation in Congress and in legislatures as states redraw their political boundaries.

In the nation’s capitals, these militant groups are urging legislatures to add new districts in which a majority of the population is Hispanic, in hopes of increasing the number of elected officials who resemble the communities they represent.

So far, many of these groups have left hoping for more.

“It turned out to be a very disappointing redistribution cycle. The states that were able to increase their delegations to Congress, Texas and Florida, we didn’t see any additional Latino districts materializing where Latinos were largely responsible for the population growth in those states, ”Arturo said. Vargas, Director General of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. .

Latinos have been the largest minority group in the United States for over a decade, and their rapid growth in recent years has formed the basis for the country’s population growth.

The United States has added about 50 million residents since the 2000 census. Of those new residents, more than half, 27 million, are of Hispanic or Latino descent, according to the US Census Bureau. Latinos make up almost half, 47.4%, of New Mexico residents and over 30% of those who live in California, Texas and Arizona.

“Latinos’ voting power has reached critical mass,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “It created a pent-up demand for political emancipation at the congressional and legislative level.”

But Latino representation in Congress has not increased at the same rate. Only 46 voting members, or about 9% of the 535 voting members of the House and Senate, are of Hispanic origin.

Even in states with smaller Latin American populations, such as Iowa, Washington, Oregon, and North Carolina, it has become prominent enough that advocates seek to bolster their ranks in state legislatures. .

This year, some state legislatures have decided to increase the number of districts eligible to elect a Hispanic member of Congress. Illinois lawmakers drew a second district with a high Hispanic concentration in Chicago. The Colorado Independent Redistribution Commission has created a new district north of Denver in which 38% of the population is of Hispanic origin.

Even in these states, however, Latino activists see a process that has left them with less representation than they should.

“In Illinois we are seeing some regression, setbacks in terms of legislative seats,” Vargas said. “The state has lost population, but increased its Latin American population. So it would be a natural outcome that there would be an increase in constituencies where Latino voters could have more say over who gets elected. It’s great to see an additional Latin seat for Congress, but when we consider the legislative seats of the states, we see that we have actually moved backwards.

Lawyers have run into the age-old problem of a redistribution process in which established incumbents draw the line: those in power today have little incentive to relinquish that power, even in the face of a growing population that deserves more. representation.

The barrier to entry has come from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who fear giving up their own power.

In Texas, Legislative Republicans won two new seats in Congress in which Anglos are in the majority, and no new seats that would give Hispanics a majority. Over the past decade, the number of Anglos in Texas has increased by 187,000, while the number of Hispanics has increased by more than 10 times that number, 1.98 million.

“They are militarizing gerrymandering to exclude Latinos from participation,” Garcia said of the Texas legislature.

In Nevada, the Democratic-controlled legislature has drawn three districts in the most populous southern half of the state that are likely to favor Democrats, in part by dividing Hispanic-dense Las Vegas between the three seats. Over the past 10 years, Nevada’s population has grown by about 400,000, of which nearly half, 170,000, were Hispanic.

“We have always viewed redistribution as a bipartisan issue for the Latin American community,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Latinos are a growing population. So if you are going to create neighborhoods for a growing population, someone, an incumbent, will be the loser. Whether it’s a Democratic incumbent or a Republican incumbent, an incumbent is not going to volunteer.

Seasoned redistribution experts say the Latin American community enjoys broader interest across demographic lines in the decade-long process to redefine America’s political boundaries. A decade after one of the most egregious redistribution processes in American history, more and more people – Latino, Anglo, Black, Asian or any other group – are paying attention.

“The Latin American population has grown tremendously and the focus has been on organizing Latin America on many levels,” said Michael Li, a redistribution expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “It turns into redistribution, which I think people now understand plays an important role in determining whether the policy works for you or not. “

“Latinos have experienced a policy over the past decade that is not working for them,” Li said.

In states where Latinos have failed to gain new district lines through legislative or commission processes, activist groups are turning to another preferred means of influencing the card lines: the courts .

LULAC is involved in lawsuits contesting lines in Iowa, Texas, Florida and other states. The Mexican-US Legislative Caucus and Voto Latino have each filed their own lawsuits against Texas. MALDEF challenged Illinois legislative districts. Other costumes are likely to come.

“This is where we rely on the courts and the Department of Justice to monitor what has happened,” Vargas said. “We hope that the federal courts will be in favor of the application of the voting rights law.”

Saenz, who heads MALDEF, said he was keeping a close watch on his home state of California. A first proposal from the California Independent Redistribution Commission contemplates splitting up a district owned by Rep. Lucille Roybal AllardLucille Roybal-Allard Proposed California Cards Put Cardmembers at Risk First Senator Officially Endorses Bass in LA Mayoral Bid Bass Receives List Approval from EMILY PLUS (D) – the most Hispanic district in the country – in the neighboring seats.

Ten years ago, MALDEF raised concerns about a number of California County Watch Boards that have failed to attract a sufficient number of high density Latin American districts.

“I’m afraid it will happen again this time around,” Saenz said.

The explosion in Latino population growth is almost certain to increase the ranks of the Congressional Hispanic caucus and members who come from Latino backgrounds, experts and observers have said. Li, of the Brennan Center, said many of these new representatives will come from states like Colorado, Arizona and California – states where committees, not the legislature, draw cards.

“As the population grows, there will be more Latinos elected to Congress,” Saenz said. “It may not happen in 2022, but during this decade there will be an increase.”