Hispanics Lead Population Growth in South and West, Leading to Congressional Seats

A volunteer helps a Mexican-American family fill out their census form at an event in Queens, NY to encourage immigrant participation in the 2010 Census - Photo: John Rudolph.

A volunteer helps a Mexican-American family fill out their census form at an event in Queens, NY to encourage immigrant participation in the 2010 Census. (Photo: John Rudolph)

The first round of 2010 Census data was released this week, and it shows that the country added about 27 million residents over the past decade. Over 13 million of them are new immigrants, which means that immigration significantly drove population change. This is particularly evident in the southern and western states which gained Congressional seats through the process of apportionment. Notably, Texas will get four new seats in the House for the next decade, due to a 20.6 percent population growth—in which Hispanics accounted for more than 60 percent. Hispanics are also responsible for approximately half the growth in Florida, Nevada and Arizona. But a larger Hispanic population won’t translate into more political representation for them right away, because many Hispanics are too young or are not yet citizens who can vote.

Fi2W spoke to Angelo Falcón, president and founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy, about the 2010 Census and what it means for immigrants.

Fi2W: Since the western and southern states saw the most growth in population, do you attribute that to immigration?

Angelo Falcón: Definitely. The irony is that in states like Texas, and in other states in the southwest that have become so anti-immigrant in policies and attitudes, the irony is that they’re heralding the fact that their population has grown so now they have more political clout, because they will have more members of Congress as a result. The irony of course is that it’s based on that thing they’ve been protesting so much—immigration. Clearly the number of people who are coming here undocumented are part of it—there are limited immigration flows into the country, so no one denies that.

Fi2W: How will the new data from the Census affect immigrants in the U.S.?

AF: The biggest growth rates are in places that have the largest concentrations of Latinos and so I think it creates a situation where the potential political clout of the Latino population is supported by these trends. But then again, there’s a counter process which is that a lot of these areas which received the population growth are Republican dominated parts of the country. So it’s kind of like these countervailing forces, where the Latino population is poised to play a bigger political role, but then also the Latino population is growing in areas that have probably the biggest challenges in terms of a political party that questions our basic existence in this country, so it’s going to be an interesting dynamic. One of the things that hopefully will happen also is that there will be a greater influence of Latinos and other immigrants in the Republican party itself, because we’re hearing more about Latino Republicans that are very unhappy with the anti-immigrant stance of many of their fellow party members. So these numbers point to a very interesting political scenario where its not clear what direction it’s going to go.

Fi2W: This is only the first round of Census data to be released. Are there other elements that you’re looking forward to seeing?

I don’t know about ‘looking forward’—basically you’re calling me a geek! Well, the most interesting part is that from February to April they’re going to be releasing the state level data that will have the race and Hispanic variables, so we’ll know down to the block level how many Blacks, Latinos and Asians are in the population. That wasn’t released this time, they just gave population counts. And that’s going to be used mostly for political redistricting, that’s when that whole process begins, of dividing up these political boundaries at the state and Congressional level, so that’s the next stage.

[…] And also what we expect is after that racial and Hispanic data come out, there will be another debate—it’s every ten years—’is this Hispanic population, and all this immigration, good or bad for America?’ So I think we’re going to have another discussion around this issue of immigration reform, and that discussion is going to get even more complicated because obviously we’re talking about a much more conservative Congress. So next year is going to be very interesting—and very exhausting.

Fi2W: What policy measures, if any, are you going to be pushing in reaction to the Census data?

[…] In terms of the Latino community, one thing that might be happening is a much more serious discussion of the importance of not defining Latino issues as simply immigration issues. The majority of Latinos in this country are citizens, have been here for a long time, are not technically immigrants, and what’s been happening is immigration issues have been overshadowing other issues of poverty, housing policy, employment policy, that we need to return to so we have a more comprehensive series of issues that we’re dealing with in the Latino community, and aren’t just defined by the single issue, as important as it is, of immigration.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.