WESLACO, Texas – A redistricting expert says the U.S. Census Bureau’s new numbers for Texas are “stunning.”

Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was referring to the loss of population in rural parts of Texas and the growth of urban and suburban areas.

“We have a new and very different picture of Texas than we had before, even a decade before. The population changes are quite stunning, in fact,” Perales said.

“There is widespread and consistent loss of population in rural areas in Texas and at the same time really extraordinary population gain in Texas in large cities and suburbs. I have never seen a pattern like this and this is my third round of redistricting with MALDEF.”

Perales made her remarks during a virtual presentation given to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s board of directors on Wednesday.

“So, this is not the Texas of the past. I know that we have sort of traditional imagery of Texas as maybe a lone cowboy with a hat on a horse riding through a rural area or small towns. Texas is changing very, very, fast and becoming a much more urban and suburban state.”

Perales said there is also a “very dramatic story” emerging in Texas related to race and ethnicity. She pointed out that the Census Bureau’s numbers show Latinos now comprise 39.3 percent of the Texas population, as compared to 39.7 percent for Anglos.

“Next year, demographers predict that the Latino population will be greater than the Anglo population in Texas. So, this is a significant moment for Texas demographics.”

According to the Census Bureau, Texas’ population grew from 25,145,561 in 2010 to 29,145,505 in 2020. Perales said that growth has been “lopsided” when it comes to ethnicity.

“Anglos were less than five percent of the growth in the state, from 2010 to 2020. Less than five percent. Latinos were 49.5 percent. So, essentially, half the growth in Texas since the last decade has been Latino,” she explained.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of the state’s growth has been Asian American and 16 percent has been African American.

“So, if you love math and you add up all that up, that means 95 percent of the population growth in Texas from 2010 to 2020 was persons of color – Asian American, African American, and predominately Latino, with Anglos, white non-Hispanics, comprising less than five percent of the state’s overall state growth.”

All of this information will be “very, very, important” when new political boundary lines are drawn, Perales said.

“We think rural areas and small cities are going to end up losing political strength, (losing their) political voice in the Capitol,” Perales predicted. The rural districts are going to “start migrating towards the suburbs and towards large cities,” she said.

South Texas impact

South Texas and the border region has also been impacted, Perales said. These regions did not grow as fast as the statewide average.

“The predominately rural area of South Texas is likely to see at least an attempt to shift political seats towards the suburbs and towards the cities. You should know that in El Paso County the growth of that county did not match the state average. In the lower Rio Grande Valley, the growth that the census captured did not keep pace with the rest of the state,” Perales said.

“So, although normally we think of the Valley and South Texas as being a population growing area, that is not what the census data is telling. In fact, the bottom cone part of Texas is reported to have not grown as quickly as the rest of the state. So, there may be redistricting implications to that.”

While the population of Latinos is growing fast in Texas, additional political clout may lag, Perales explained.

“Although I have told a very positive story about Latino growth, Latino political strength is not matching where our growth is. For a couple of reasons. We are a very young population, we have a disproportionate number of people who are under the age of 18 within our population,” Perales said.

“And then we also have citizenship as a factor in who is eligible to vote. So, even today, as the Latino population converges on the Anglo population, the number of registered voters who are not Hispanic is quite large. And the number of voters who are Hispanic is still not matching where we are numerically.

“And, so, although the story is a very positive one for Latino population growth, there is a challenge embedded within that, which is to have Latino political participation be as strong as the demographic group.”

Perales started her presentation by explaining who MALDEF is and what it does.

“MALDEF is a nonprofit law firm that was founded to bring civil rights cases on behalf of Latinos,” she told the LRGVDC board of directors. “We have litigated every round of redistricting that has happened in Texas since 1968. That is important because since that time every single round of redistricting, Texas has been found to have discriminated against Latino voters in one or more of its state redistricting plans. So, that means in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s cycles, Texas has been found to have discriminated against Latino voters.”

Perales said MALDEF stands ready to help the LRGVDC and Valley communities during the redistricting process.

“Please consider us a resource and with respect to Austin, we would really urge you to make sure that your voices are heard in Austin as we are about to enter what is likely to be a special session on redistricting,” Perales said.

“We do think it would be very important for the leadership of the lower Valley to be there in Austin and to testify as to the needs and the importance of having political representation in the Valley. We can provide support including analysis and talking points. Thank you very much.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Nina Perales. (Photo credit: American University, Washington College of Law).

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