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Latinos Poised to Shake Up 2010 Census, Politicians Beware

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I'm not convinced Washington has awakened to the reality yet -- but the 2010 Census is going to shake things up politically in this country, and politicians would do themselves a favor to wake up and smell the coffee in advance.

This is about raw political power -- something politicians of all stripes understand.

Here is what a new study by my organization, America’s Voice Education Fund, has to say:  the 2010 Census, which will document Latino population growth, will have a profound effect on the U.S. political landscape. An astonishing number of states will owe new Congressional seats, in large part, to their new Latino constituents.

The findings provide a stunning political backdrop to the upcoming debate on comprehensive immigration reform, an issue of major consequence to Latino voters.

Since the 2000 Census, Latinos have become the largest minority group in the United States. A bipartisan firm, Election Data Services, Inc. used existing Census data to project which states are likely to gain and lose Congressional seats following the 2010 Census. Their projections show that eight states will gain at least one House seat, while eleven states will lose at least one seat in Congress. Here they are: 

States gaining House seats: Texas (+4), Arizona (+2), Florida (+1), Georgia (+1), Nevada (+1), Oregon (+1), South Carolina (+1), and Utah (+1).

States losing House seats: Ohio (-2), Illinois (-1), Iowa (-1), Louisiana (-1), Massachusetts (-1), Michigan (-1), Minnesota (-1), Missouri (-1), New Jersey (-1), New York (-1), and Pennsylvania (-1).

Latinos represent 51% of population growth in the United States as a whole since 2000. Latinos have driven growth in the states poised to gain House seats following the 2010 Census, especially in those projected to gain more than one seat: Texas and Arizona. In those two states, Latinos comprise a combined 59% of population growth since 2000.

As the report indicates, Latinos are not just settling in the usual major cities.

New members of Congress in states like Georgia and South Carolina, as well as Arizona and Texas, will owe their positions, in part, to the expanding Latino population. What’s more, states that are losing Congressional representation would have fared much worse had Latinos not moved there in record numbers. While their states’ Congressional delegations are shrinking overall, Latino voters are gaining power as they expand their share of the electorate.

These population figures translate into significant new voting power, too.

Nationwide, Latino voter registration grew 54% and Latino voter turnout grew 64% between 2000 and 2008. In the eight states poised to gain seats, Latino voter registration grew 45% and Latino voter turnout expanded 50% between 2000 and 2008.  In the eleven states poised to lose seats, Latino voter registration grew 50% and Latino voter turnout expanded 62% between 2000 and 2008.

So what does this mean for immigration reform?

Over the next few months, Congress will debate comprehensive immigration reform. Since 2005, when House Republicans launched an aggressive anti-immigrant agenda -- spurred by Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and then spearheaded by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) -- the party has lost control of the House, the Senate and the White House. 

This is no mere coincidence.  For example, in 2008, in 20 out of 22 competitive Congressional races, the anti-immigration or enforcement-only candidate lost to a candidate who embraced a moderate immigration reform approach.  Moreover, Latino voters were a major factor in helping President Obama turn the 2004 red states of Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida into blue states in 2008.

As these demographic changes continue, immigration hardliner candidates and lawmakers are facing a new reality. Here is how the Washington Post reported on our findings yesterday:

The study's authors note that most of the gains come in traditionally red or purple states as Latinos move beyond the nation's largest cities into smaller, rural communities.

"I think it poses a real challenge for the Republican Party," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice. While George W. Bush ran an effective Latino outreach campaign during his 2004 reelection campaign, the increased use and support of anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation has hurt the party's ability to attract Latino voters now moving into Red districts, he said.

 "This is going to set up a very interesting dynamic, because right now, the kind of bleached districts where candidates can get away with demonizing Latino immigrants -- because they're more worried about a primary challenge than a general election loss -- may end in the next decade," Sharry said.

That “very interesting dynamic” will begin to unfold in the House and Senate early next year when the debate on immigration reform begins. President Obama, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have all promised to push that legislation. They’ll need to meet expectations.

As for our friends running the GOP, obstructing progress or continuing to demonize Latinos and immigrants through harsh rhetoric and unfair policies will emerge as an even greater recipe for political irrelevance come 2010.

One thing is certain: the convergence of the Census, a surging Latino population, and the upcoming immigration reform fight will make for a remarkable 2010.

Note: Cross-posted at America's Voice.