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Star-Telegram Austin Bureau
Latino Leaders Concerned Over Shift In Census Authority
Hispanics Say Statistical Sampling Is Needed To Prevent Undercounting
By R.A. Dyer
February 18, 2001
AUSTIN - By removing authority over the final census count from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bush administration risks confrontation with minority groups, various Latino leaders said Saturday.
This act is being taken so precipitously," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a research and advocacy group in San Antonio. "We are concerned, given that Bush campaigned by reaching out to Latinos and other minorities and reducing partisan tension."
Commerce Secretary Don Evans on Friday returned to his office the authority over whether to adjust raw population numbers using a scientific sampling method. Evans' decision reversed a Clinton administration order giving such authority to the U.S. Census Bureau and a committee of career statisticians.
Proponents of sampling say that it would guard against undercounting various minority groups and would probably help Democrats. It could also affect the redistribution of $185 billion in federal funds.
Republicans have generally argued that adjusting the 2000 count by statistical means could insert more errors into the census. They have cited the Constitution's provision for an "actual enumeration" of the population.
Gonzalez and several other Texas Hispanic leaders met here Saturday for a symposium on redistricting. They said preliminary surveys show that, without statistical sampling, Latinos risk a greater undercount than any other ethnic group.
"The Bush administration has stripped the power from the U.S. Census Bureau to make the decision to whether to use adjusted numbers or not. This is a surprise," Gonzalez said. "We will not refrain from opposing measures - and criticizing the administration - if it takes actions that we think are detrimental to the Hispanic and the minority community."
Evans is expected to decide during the first week of March whether to use adjusted or raw data. Democrats have called on Bush to leave the final decision over sampling to the U.S. Census director.
Gonzalez also said that Latinos could potentially pick up extra Congressional seats during redistricting, which begins after the release of census figures - probably in March. He noted that Latinos accounted for about 55 percent of the state's growth over the last decade, and make up about 33 percent of its population.
Given those numbers, he said, proportional representation for Latinos would amount to about 10 Congressional seats in heavily Hispanic parts of the state. Six such seats exist in Texas.
Gonzalez said Latino-majority districts could be drawn in the Valley and around urban areas, including in Tarrant County. "Those opportunities should exist," he said.
His institute joined three other prominent Hispanic organizations Saturday in calling for community participation in the redistricting process.
The new census numbers will drive a complicated redistricting effort that could affect hundreds of political entities and thousands of officeholders. Water district board members, school board members, city council members, state lawmakers - all could see their district boundaries redrawn.
Al Kauffman, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said his organization was prepared - and indeed, expected - to file lawsuits during the process.
He promised to work with the Velasquez Institute, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in mobilizing local leaders.
He said that his organization has experts and special computer software to help create local redistricting maps for those leaders.
"They are the ones that know the most about the communities," Kauffman said of local leaders. They could then take their maps to local political leaders during redistricting. "They could say, 'Look, city council, you drew the lines, but you did not respect this community.' And remember, every [political body] that has single- member districts will have to redistrict."
R.A. Dyer, (512) 476-4294 firstname.lastname@example.org