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Opinion

Opinion

Census may boost Hispanic political clout

April 4, 2010

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— Census Day was a big day at the office of the National Council of La Raza, not only because it was the final day of the drive to reduce the chronic undercount of Hispanic residents but because it marked a time when Latinos in the United States could obtain the latest measure of their growing political power.

The largest and fastest-growing minority group finds itself in an anomalous position this year. In some respects, its stature has never been higher, with the Supreme Court appointment of Sonia Sotomayor signaling that one more historic barrier has fallen to the talent and ambition of the Spanish-speaking community.

But as Janet Murguia, the veteran political organizer and former Clinton White House aide who is president of La Raza reminded me, “As long as the immigration issue is unresolved, we feel under threat.”

The mixed signals that Hispanics receive from the larger community, ranging from the accolades for the first Hispanic woman on the high court to the threatening nativist rhetoric of Tom Tancredo at the first tea party convention, have produced an almost schizophrenic reaction among Latino constituencies and leaders.

While celebrating the gains they have recorded on such vital issues as health care, children’s welfare and education from their alliance with Barack Obama, they fret about the backlash they see on illegal immigration and the growing gulf between their own community and most Republican officeholders.

It is a distinctly uncomfortable mood, despite the strong sense they share of imminent and growing political power.

That power ultimately rests on their numbers, which is why the census has been so much on the minds of Latino leaders like Murguia and Eric Rodriguez, a La Raza vice president. The same day, Thursday, that I interviewed them, the Pew Hispanic Center released a poll of Latino voters showing solid majorities of both native and foreign-born Hispanics believe the census results will benefit their community.

This is important because census officials have struggled for years — and especially this year — to overcome Latinos’ fear of giving full information about themselves to the government enumerators. Assurances that the responses will remain confidential and not be turned over to immigration authorities or other potentially threatening officials are met with skepticism. By staying uncounted, Hispanics reduce the flow of government funds to their cities and states, and even deny themselves representation in Congress and the legislatures.

Overcoming those fears has been a major focus for La Raza and other Hispanic civic and advocacy groups, and for the Census Bureau itself. Without knowing the exact numbers, it is clear that Latinos’ role and influence can only expand as the new census results are tallied.

In a recent article, the National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein noted that between 1993, the first year of the Clinton administration, and now, the number of House districts where minorities made up at least 30 percent of the population nearly doubled, going from 109 to 205 — almost half the House of Representatives.

Most of that increase was attributable to Hispanics, because the African-American population is growing much more slowly. As Rep. Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, told Brownstein, “If you are in a district that is not accustomed to seeing a lot of diversity, the rule now is that you’re going to see it. And you can’t ignore it. That is the face of America tomorrow.”

According to the latest Census Bureau forecasts, Texas will be the main winner of new House seats, with four new districts. Single seat gains are forecast for Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. How many of those districts will be controlled or influenced by Hispanics will depend on who draws the lines and how they are constructed. But most of those states, and especially Texas, have seen big Hispanic population growth.

The changes we have seen so far — and the controversies they have spawned — are likely to be overwhelmed by those yet to come.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group davidbroder@washpost.com

Comments

geekin_topekan 4 years, 8 months ago

"Schizophrenic" indeed. The Hispanics that I have met and worked among are devotedly religious, self sufficient, anti-gay, pro-life and family oriented. A would think that the repub party would seek them out for the vote (probably why immigration reform was a repub idea in the first place).

They are also ESL, brown and proud and believe that whatever choices someone else makes, it doesn't matter to them, God will sort it all out later so live and let live. Very unlike a repub.

The repubs have a tremendous opportunity to expand their power but for some reason they cant see beyond the (generally) brown complexion and SPanish sir name.

Brent Garner 4 years, 8 months ago

If you are here legally, welcome. If you are here illegally, go home.

cowboy 4 years, 8 months ago

psst Tom & Barry , keep it quiet , but they were here before you came over on the boat , you are the illegal immigrants ! you are the original wetbacks taking over other peoples lands in your "low rider" wagons , spreading disease along your path.

scott3460 4 years, 8 months ago

"Mexico is a nice piece of property. The 'Wise Latinas' and 'Hard working Latinos'will do for this part of the continent that they did for that 'Narco State' of Mexico."

US drug policy made the narco state. Which party is largely responsible for our drug policy?

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

bkgarner (Brent Garner) says… If you are here legally, welcome. If you are here illegally, go home.

And most people on here assume anyone who is Hispanic is illegal. Many hispanic families have been here more generations than the northern europeans here, who claim they are all rich and hard working, but post here and elsewhere all day long. I guess they hire the "illegals" to do their work for them, so they can spew hate.

Brent Garner 4 years, 8 months ago

tomatogrower:

My statement did not spew hate, but your's certainly does. You hate anyone who disagrees with you. My statement conforms with law. Neither did my statement advocate violence. As I said, if you are here legally, welcome. If you are here illegally, go home.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 8 months ago

Be legal or be gone. Doesn't matter whether you snuck in from Norway or Peru.

Gary Sandell 4 years, 8 months ago

Broder says, "By staying uncounted, Hispanics reduce the flow of government funds to their cities and states, and even deny themselves representation in Congress and the legislatures."

I know I am late in posting but it sounds to me like Broder is talking about the "Illegal" people that do not want to be counted. Why would the "legal" people have a problem being counted? And since when should we "increase the flow of government funds" if it is because of an increase in the count of "illegal" persons? And denying them representation in Congress? I still thought "illegal" meant Not Legal", as in Against the Law.
The only representation an "illegal" should have is the attorney that represents them when they go to court to get deported. And they need to pay for the attorney, not us taxpayers. Come into the country legally and most will welcome you with open arms, come illegally and there is only one direction that you need to go....Back!

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