Local population figures released by the U.S. Census Thursday show a substantial increase in Texas’ Hispanic population, which grew by nearly 2 million and now nearly equals its white population at roughly 40%.
The effects of that growth for San Antonio are still unclear, political observers say. Census figures are used to redraw the boundaries of legislative districts.
“We’re all still mesmerized by these numbers and trying to figure it out,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
Perales was part of the legal team that helped defend the creation of Texas’ 35th congressional district, represented by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin). The district was created as a result of the 2010 Census — the only Hispanic-majority district created at that time — and was ruled illegal by a federal court in 2017 on the charge that it was racially gerrymandered. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled in favor of the district.
The district is now protected under the Voting Rights Act, Perales said. For her, the only question is whether its boundaries will contract due to population growth.
The new demographic numbers are sure to be central in what many observers expect to be a long and protracted legal fight. Every map that Texas legislators have passed has been struck down at least in part by courts since 1970, said Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice.
“I don’t think anyone thinks that whatever comes out of the Texas legislature will be the final map,” he said. “The court will consider it and make modifications to it.”
And this cycle, gerrymandering could be even more aggressive, he said.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, by striking down a provision of the Voting Rights Act, allowed Texas to implement its redistricting maps without getting federal approval first.
Texas is set to gain two Congressional seats, owing to census tallies released earlier this year. Other states are gaining only one seat, and some, like California, are losing one.
“The big fight is over where those seats are going to go,” said Henry Flores, professor emeritus of political science at St. Mary’s University. He said the Republican legislature will be reluctant to give more seats to urban areas, which tend to vote Democratic.
“I would bet my bottom dollar that the one congressional district the Republicans are going to go after is Congressman Doggett,” he said.
Doggett’s district snakes up Interstate 35 to encompass both East Austin and East San Antonio, both of which are home to large Black and Hispanic populations. Doggett won his last election in 2020 with 65% of the vote.
Bexar County’s population grew 17.2% from the 2010 census, now totaling a population of slightly more than 2 million.
Its ethnic and racial composition remains largely the same. The county’s Hispanic population grew less than a percentage point, still hovering around the 59% mark. The county’s white, non-Hispanic population shrank about 3.5 percentage points to 26.7%. The Black population grew half a percentage point to 7.4%, and the Asian population grew one percentage point to slightly more than 3%.
Some populations tend to be undercounted, warned State Demographer and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Lloyd Potter, including children, Latinos, and African Americans — particularly young African American males. The same is also true of people who live in rental properties, as well as foreign-born persons and those who do not speak English.
Last year, turnout for the census was also marred by the pandemic. Another complication was the protracted question of whether a citizenship question would be added — a proposition sought by the Trump administration but which was ultimately not implemented. Civil rights groups feared the question could deter non-citizens from participating in the census, such as those who immigrated to the country illegally, but who are still supposed to be counted.
Many communities feared that information from the census would be shared with other federal agencies, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the United States Housing Authority, said Lupe Torres, the census events coordinator for the League of Latin American Citizens in San Antonio and Bexar County.
Her organization drove caravans through low-income neighborhoods to encourage participation. Many people, she said, did not realize that the census determines the allocation of programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, SNAP benefits, and others.
Torres said she and others in the organization were eager to see the 2020 census numbers in detail to see how their efforts fared.
The data released Thursday was in a raw format. The U.S. Census is releasing the same figures in an easier-to-read format in September.