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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Latino population growth adds to House seats

6 states expected to gain congressional slots due to surge in Hispanic numbers

By Lee Davidson | Deseret News
Nov. 17, 2009

A new study says that six of the eight states that are expected to gain U.S. House seats from the 2010 Census — all except Utah and Georgia — would not receive them without recent population growth among Hispanics, which may make Latinos more politically powerful.

And while Utah likely would gain an expected fourth House seat even without help from the state's Hispanic growth, Latinos still created 25 percent of recent growth, adding about 128,000 of the 503,000 additional people in the state since 2000 and making them increasingly important politically.

"The states likely to gain political power following the 2010 Census are currently largely Republican dominated" and in most cases "will owe this expanded power to Latinos who moved to their states," says the study by the America's Voice Education Fund, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that advocates comprehensive immigration reform.

"Ironically, many members of the delegations who will benefit … have embraced policies that are hostile to Latinos and immigrants. It will be interesting to see how the 2010 Census impacts politicians' attitudes toward immigrants and Latinos who help them expand their powers in Congress," the report said.

Several Latino groups held an online discussion of the findings Tuesday, and many of them recently formed an alliance against a bill by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, that seeks to add a question in the upcoming census to identify non-citizens and exclude them from numbers used to reapportion the House.

Bennett, who is being challenged for re-election by several conservatives in his party, is seen as pushing that largely to appeal to conservatives upset by growth among illegal immigrants. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has joined a similar bill in the House.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, blasted such efforts during the discussion Tuesday, saying they echo the days when the census "counted African American slaves as only three-fifths of a person and some Native Americans as 0 percent of a person."

He added, "For anybody to suggest that Latino immigrants revert to declaring themselves as 0 percent of a person under our Constitution, to me, is irresponsible and immoral." He also worried the controversy may make many Latinos wary of the census and choose not to participate.

But Frank Sharry, executive director of the America's Voice Education Fund, said the study shows Latinos produced 51 percent of the population growth in the nation since 2000, and Latino voter turnout is increasing, making them more important, especially in what are now Republican states, including Utah.

He said as that continues, areas "where candidates can get away with demonizing Latino immigrants because they are more worried about a primary challenge than a general-election loss may end in the next decade."

The study projects that eight states will gain seats in the upcoming census — Texas (gaining four), Arizona (gaining two) and one each for Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah. Each House seat gained also brings an extra vote in the Electoral College.

"Without Latino population growth, six of the eight states gaining representation would most likely not have achieved their current projected seats," the study said. "Only Georgia and Utah would have gained their new seats without Latino growth."

Eleven states would lose seats, the study said — Ohio (losing two) and one each by Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

"In many of these areas, growth in the states' Latino population has actually helped to counteract the shrinkage within other groups. Latinos make up 77 percent of the total population growth in the 11 states projected to lose one or more House seats," which may also give Hispanic more power there, the study said.

The study also said Latinos are voting in greater numbers in most states, although it said the growth in Utah has been anemic so far.

It said Latino voter turnout in Utah was up by 5 percent in 2008, compared with 2000. Still, Latinos only made up an estimated 2.2 percent of all state voters in 2008, the report said.

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