McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — New Texas congressional maps passed by the Legislature favor non-minority candidates and are unfair to Hispanic voters, especially those on the border, members of several Hispanic civil rights organizations that are part of a lawsuit challenging the state’s redistricting proposals said Tuesday.
“What you have here is a unified voice of Latinos in protest of discriminatory redistricting plans,” said Nina Perales, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “These maps are so egregiously discriminatory.”
The suit, League of United Latin American Citizens et al vs. Abbott, was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division. It was brought by 10 organizations, including the nonprofits the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), Mi Familia Vota, and La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE).
It was filed, however, before Abbott has signed off on the proposed redistricting plans, which were driven by a Republican-led Legislature that adjourned its third Special Session early Tuesday morning.
The proposed maps, passed by the Texas House on Sunday, would add two new congressional seats in the Houston and Austin areas, but not in minority-rich border areas like the Rio Grande Valley.
The state is gaining two new districts after the 2020 Census added 4 million new residents in Texas.
But Hispanic civil rights groups say that over half of the new residents added to the state are Hispanic, and therefore more minority-rich districts should be added.
Instead, the lawsuit alleges that redistricting maps, as currently passed by lawmakers, would “dilute” the minority vote and violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution.
“We were disappointed and frustrated and not surprised that the state of Texas was once again able to create districts that diluted the votes and violate the Voting Rights Act, and for that reason, we filed the lawsuit,” said Lydia Camarillo, chairperson of the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force and president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.
“We refuse to accept the maps,” Angelica Razo, of Mi Familia Vota, said during an online conference call Tuesday with media and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“Only one term can describe those results: racial discrimination,” said LUPE Executive Director Juanita Valdez-Cox. “We are confident our attorneys will show the racism. We urge the Legislature to redraw a better set of maps.”
The lawsuit alleges that four redistricting maps — the congressional plan, state House plan, state Senate plan, and redistricting plan for the State Board of Education — are all discriminatory.
“In all four, Latino-majority districts should have been created to reflect the growth of the Latino communities in the past decade and none of them did. There is no net gain for Latinos,” Perales said.
The redrawing of South Texas and West Texas congressional border districts is particularly concerning, they said.
District 34, which encompasses Cameron County on the Gulf Coast, would extend west into parts of McAllen, and as currently proposed would annex a section of the city where current U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents District 15, lives. That would enable Gonzalez then to represent District 34, which currently is held by Democrat Filemon Vela, who has announced his retirement at the end of this term.
Gonzalez earlier this month told Border Report that he was inclined to switch districts after early redistricting maps became public. But it was, at the time, uncertain how that would happen. Now after the Texas House’s vote on Sunday it is clear that his home would move districts and that would prevent him from going up against Republican hopeful Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, who in her first run for office last year narrowly failed against Gonzalez by just 7,000 votes.
District 15, as proposed, is now a long thin geographic area stretching northward from Hidalgo County, on the border, to conservative Jim Wells, Brooks, Live Oak, Karnes, Wilson and Guadalupe Counties, outside San Antonio.
Political experts note that the redrawing will help De La Cruz-Hernandez, who is backed by national Republican figures, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas. The 15th District is one of five that the National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting in Texas next year, including three in South Texas.
Perales, of MALDEF, calls the new lines “packing and cracking.”
“A more fair map would have balanced the Latino population in the lower Rio Grande Valley better between those two congressional districts. But what we saw is packing and cracking. Where District 34 is packed with so many Latinos so it is almost 80% Latino, and at the same time the district next door, District 15, is stripped down in an attempt to make it look like a Latino-majority district but it is intentionally crafted to be a very marginal Latino district,” Perales said. “This is essentially trying to make 15 into a sham.”
“This is essentially trying to make (District) 15 into a sham.”Nina Perales, MALDEF
District 28, to the east, also would be altered to end at the Starr-Hidalgo county line. That would strip U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose hometown is Laredo, from representing any part of Hidalgo County.
Cuellar is vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee and arguably the most influential lawmaker from South Texas. However, he is controversial due to his anti-abortion views and past history of voting with Republicans on some issues. He is expected to face another strong primary challenge from Democrat Jessica Cisneros, who ran against him in the last election.
In West Texas, civil rights activists say it is unfair for a portion of Fort Bliss and Biggs Army Air Field in El Paso to be carved out of Congressional District 16, which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, and put under the control of the 23rd District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican.
“The Texas Legislature needs to be bi-partisan when it comes to our military installations and who represent them. The Texas Legislature must in the Redistrict plan fully place back Fort Bliss and Biggs Army Air Field in the 16th District and not carve and cut out the military installation in half placing part of it in the 23rd District,” Larry Romo, of the veteran group American G.I., Forum said during Tuesday’s online forum. “Fort Bliss and Biggs Army Air Field is fully supported historically by the citizens of El Paso so it makes absolute sense for the entire installation to be represented by the congressional representative of the 16th District based in El Paso and not someone based over 600 miles away.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Escobar issued a statement in favor of a Senate proposal that would return Fort Bliss’s major assets as well as El Paso International Airport back into Texas’ 16th Congressional District.
“The attempt to carve those landmarks out of our community was a direct threat to our economic future for the next decade, and preventing a disastrous outcome took a unified effort by El Paso that we are very proud of. The new boundary also brings major parts of the Ysleta del Sur Indian Reservation, including the Ysleta Mission, Speaking Rock Entertainment Center, the Tribal Administration Building, and the Ysleta del Sur Cultural Center into TX-16,” Escobar said. “Fort Bliss is a part of the fabric of El Paso and shares the same concerns, needs, and goals as the rest of the community. Between servicemembers and their families, 37,000 people on Fort Bliss are contributing to our community and enriching our culture; their children are educated at our schools, and they contribute to our local economy significantly.”
On Monday, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) also filed a petition for deposition to investigate potential violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act relating to the redistricting maps.
MALC Chairman State Rep. Rafael Anchia called the proposals “contorted maps” that he said, “will undermine representative democracy in Texas for a decade.”
Said Texas Freedom Network President Val Benavidez on Tuesday: “The best thing that can be said about the special session is that it’s over and Texans can take a breath knowing that, at least for the moment, Gov. Abbott and state Republicans are not inside the Capitol actively dreaming up new ways to limit their voices or take away their rights.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com