Census could fuel case for new Latino Congressional district

December 29, 2010

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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2009.

Illinois may be losing a Congressional seat, but new census figures could be good news for the state’s Latinos.

A U.S. Census Bureau estimate for 2009 suggests the number of Latinos in the state had grown by almost 440,000 since 2000. Census figures coming out early next year are expected to show those residents concentrated in the Chicago area.

If so, the U.S. Voting Rights Act might require Illinois to create its second mostly Latino Congressional district, according to attorney Virginia Martínez of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“We need to ensure that our voice is not diluted by drawing lines that cut up our community,” Martínez said. “It impacts everything that affects us -- the future of immigration reform, lunch meals served to our children in schools.”

Martínez worked on a pair of 1981 lawsuits that led to the first Latino aldermanic ward in Chicago and the first Latino legislative district in Illinois. By 1992, the state had its first Latino Congressional district, represented ever since by Luis Gutiérrez, D-Chicago.

Martínez said a second Latino Congressional district would not have to come at the expense of African Americans. That is because Latinos have been settling in areas that had been mainly white, she said.