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Latinos and Redistricting: Speak Up for Your Community!

Posted by NALEO Educational Fund on 03/31/2011 @ 03:00 PM

The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the Latino community took seriously the call to stand up and be counted in the 2010 enumeration. The result of that is a new face for America and one that is increasingly Latino. We are now more than 50 million strong, and we accounted for more than half of the increase in the country’s population since 2000. We are the fastest-growing segment of the nation's population and already the second largest.

The numbers confirm that the Latino population had a significant impact in the growth of the population in many key states, including Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Georgia, just to name a few.

Our growth is such that even in states slated to lose congressional representation because of shifts in population -- Illinois, New Jersey and New York, for instance -- the loss would have been greater if not for the Latino population.

So what’s the next step? Redistricting. It’s the process of re-drawing district lines to represent these changes in population. Those new districts will decide the political landscape for at least the next ten years, and the Latino community deserves the right to participate in the process to create districts that reflect their needs and electoral preferences.

A redistricting body in the state takes the Census data and other important information and draws the maps based on certain criteria, including federal and state laws. Public input is very important because those who are drawing these new lines take testimony from the public to get much of the information they need for the work they’re doing. In some states, the legislature draw congressional and state lines, others use commissions, or commissions and the legislature share redistricting responsibilities.

Redistricting varies from state to state, but there are some fundamentals all states have in common. One of the most important criteria is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a federal law that protects Latinos and other underrepresented groups from discrimination in the electoral process. What that means is the lines can’t be drawn to dilute the Latino vote and they can’t be drawn to help parties gain political advantage if it discriminates against Latinos.

Another criterion is the consideration of “communities of interest.” Line drawers must also try to keep together those neighborhoods or geographic areas where residents have shared views, interests or characteristics. For Latinos, a “community of interest” can be a group of residents whose children attend the same schools and face the same challenges in obtaining a quality education. It can be neighborhoods that use the same transportation lines or access the same types of local services, such as public parks or libraries. It can be Latinos who work at the kinds of businesses that have shared employment or economic concerns.

It is because of the VRA and the “communities of interest” criterion that community members need to get involved, because they are the true experts in the redistricting process. They have the best knowledge about their neighborhoods and how those areas should be kept together during redistricting. They can provide crucial information about Latino experiences with voting and elections in order to safeguard against discrimination during the creation of maps.

It is therefore important that Latino community members learn and become versed in their state’s redistricting process. That includes testifying during the public hearings held by those drawing up the lines.

There’s another reason to get involved: a legal paper trail, just in case. Testimony from Latino community members helps ensure there is a solid record that voting rights advocates can use if they have to sue jurisdictions for VRA violations. Just as Latinos stood up to be counted during the Census, they must now stand up at redistricting hearings and provide input in the process. At the very least, the community can help make sure line drawers follow the law.

There is another important consideration, and it’s not just about showing up and testifying. It’s about Latinos holding the line drawers accountable and making sure they undertake the process in an open and transparent manner. All too often, decisions have been made behind closed doors in backroom deals. An open and participatory redistricting process is one of the best ways to ensure that Latino voices are heard.

The NALEO Educational Fund is working in three regions of the country to connect Latinos to the redistricting process – California, Central Florida and the Las Vegas metropolitan area. We are providing technical assistance throughout the process and mobilizing Latinos to testify and provide information during redistricting hearings. Leading Latino voting rights advocates, such as MALDEF and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, are conducting similar efforts in other regions of the country.

Redistricting occurs once every ten years, and the decisions made this year will determine the political destiny of Latinos for at least the next decade. We can’t afford to be left out of the process.




A special thank you to the NALEO Educational Fund for contributing this Guest Post.

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The curious case of Mark Martinez: Justice or Just Us?

Posted by Baldo Garza on 03/30/2011 @ 06:00 PM

This is but one of thousands of stories of young people with a limited future in our country. Understand how remarkable this last statement is. In our country, a specific group of young people have no future.

A young man boarded a bus on a trip to Arkansas to attend a school to become a pastor. On his way to Arkansas, while crossing the border between two states, the bus was boarded by Border Patrol Agents. This is a common practice in this war on terrorism by the Department of Homeland Security.

What criteria used to identify this young man for questioning, perhaps we will not know. Unfortunately, this young man was asked where he was born. He replied in México. Mark was removed from the bus and taken to a detention facility where he was processed. Further questioning, without counsel, occurred. What 19 year old can contest the trained interrogation process by himself?

Finally, after contacting his parents in his home state, he was granted a bond in the amount of $4000. During the times I have appeared for clients in removal proceedings, bonds in the amount of $4000, $5000 or even $7500 are not uncommon. Despite the times we are in and the state of the economy, his parents were able to get the money and post a bond. Mark was allowed to fly back to his home state and returned to his parents. How many others are locked up with no way to go home, sometimes ICE doesn’t even know.

Just a little about Mark. Mark was brought to the United States with his parents when he was five years old for a brighter future. Mark grew up and attended school here in this country. He graduated from high school and has no criminal record.

My question is how much longer will we continue this process? Why are these young people detained? Is it “Justice” or “Just us” mentality? During the last four years, more than 1,442,977 people have been removed; of these, 894,423 were non-criminal. [1] What has this done to these families?

Mark needs our help. I can sense his parents fear and concern. Unfortunately, as with most detainees, access to legal help is not within reach. For more information about how to help people like Mark, please contact the LULAC National Civil Rights Committee.

As a last note, our committee held a Civil Rights Symposium at the Southern Methodist University on March, 26, 2011. Other Civil Rights Symposiums are in the planning stages. If you would like to host a Civil Rights Symposium in your area, please contact me at baldogarza@yahoo.com.

*Names and locations have been changed to protect the identity of the person.

SOURCES

1. ICE Total removals as of December 7, 2010.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily shared by the LULAC National Office.

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