Texas Hispanics are demanding their fair share of political power as the Legislature works on a new state map for apportioning representation. Population increases mean the new map will likely see four new Congressional districts, and Hispanic groups say they ought to be shaped around Latino communities, since Latinos account for two-thirds of the growth.
Past redistricting efforts have been highly politicized, but Michael Seifert, coordinator of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, says he's hopeful any efforts to dilute Latino concentrations won't get very far this year.
"This is a losing prospect, and not in a long run but in the very short term, it's going to turn against them. There's no denying the enormous growth in Latino communities, and especially in Texas."
Seifert says that, with Latinos now making up 38 percent of the state's population, they are a major force that will not take kindly to politicians attempting to disenfranchise them. Currently, seven of Texas' 32 Congressional districts are majority Hispanic. Seifert would like to see that number rise to at least nine.
He says the Rio Grande Valley desperately needs representatives who are in tune with the region's unique needs.
"We are a border region; we are a poor region of the country. We're a region that has become militarized. We particularly need a voice that will speak to the very special circumstances in which we try and live out the American dream."
Federal voting rights laws prohibit states from fashioning districts designed to weaken minority strength, although some critics argue Hispanics are improperly trying to include undocumented residents by insisting that the 2010 census left out hundreds of thousands from border communities. Latino groups say under-counting deprives the state of millions of federal social-services dollars. They're planning to sue the government for failing to properly distribute census forms in hard-to-count areas.
A state House committee began hearing testimony on redistricting last week; the Senate is expected to start hearings at any time.