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Political groups in Texas prepare to reach out to Latinos ahead of the 2020 census

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

If counted accurately, the 2020 U.S. census is expected to show a boom in Texas’ Latino population. That’s why groups in the state say they plan to focus their efforts on making sure Latinos here fill out the form and get counted.

Jolt, a group working to increase the number of young people of color who vote in Texas, says it plans to start hiring people in January to reach out to Latinos in Austin, Dallas and Houston, as well as some rural parts of the state.

Antonio Arellano, the group’s interim executive director, said Jolt plans to “mobilize the largest number of Latino census-takers in Texas history.” He said it plans on hiring Latinos and other “culturally competent” people to reach out to those communities.

“We are going to make sure that Latinos are well-educated and well-versed on the ramifications of not being counted,” Arellano said. “We are going to highlight the importance of their power.”

People of color, in general, are at greater risk of being undercounted, but there are fears Latinos might be even less likely to fill out the census in this political climate.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a Democrat from Austin and the policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said it’s going to be tough to convince immigrant communities to get counted because of anti-immigrant policies being pushed by the Trump administration.

“It’s harder now because of all this rhetoric,” he said. “I think that there are people who are maybe undocumented who don’t trust anything at this point.”

One of the biggest hurdles will be making sure Latinos know citizenship status will not be part of the form, Arellano said. Courts have blocked the Trump administration from including a question about citizenship status on the census form.

Arellano said the citizenship question was part of a larger effort to intimidate immigrant communities.

“Make no mistake about it that there is a definite strategic and systematic attempt to try to dilute the power of young Latinos and the Latino electorate,” he said.

The stakes are high for many reasons, Rodriguez said. One, the census will help the federal government decide how to dole out billions in federal funding for things like health care and transportation. If the state is undercounted, he said, its programs will be underfunded.

Politically, the costs for the Latino community are also high. The census will give state lawmakers a sense of where communities are and how big they are when they start drawing up political maps during redistricting in 2021.

Rodriguez said it’s clear Republicans have been working to minimize the power of Latinos in an effort to hold on to power in the state.

In fact, earlier this year, The New York Times published a study by a Republican strategist who looked into the potential impact of including a citizenship question on the 2020 census and the effect the question could have on diminishing the voting power of Latinos in Texas.

“That was the entire game plan right there,” Rodriguez said. “I think that means that the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and other Latino activists around the state need to be very diligent and do everything we can to make sure that everyone is counted.”

Rodriguez said an accurate count will be one of the best defenses during redistricting.

That’s why a political group like Jolt plans to invest in the census, Arellano said.

“It’s crucial that we make sure that every Latino in the state gets counted,” Arellano said, “so that going forward there could be no question about the size of our population and the importance of our demographic in the state.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Andrea Garcia/KUT: Julie Gilberg helps with voter registration during a Jolt event last fall.

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