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April 1996, Volume 3, Number 4

Immigration and Voting

A federal court issued a ruling on March 11, 1996 that upheld the creation of a horseshoe-shaped Chicago congressional district to remedy past discrimination against Hispanics. The 4th congressional district was created after a 1991 lawsuit that led to Illinois' first Latino-majority district, represented by Luis Guitierrez since 1992. The decision is expected to be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

The decision may affect how Chicago ward maps are drawn, although some Hispanic leaders claim wards are different because the boundaries are negotiated by the Latino leadership. However, current ward maps are being challenged by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which argues that the boundaries were drawn to protect Aldermen John Daley, brother of Mayor Daley, and Edward Burke.

In a comparison of immigrant political influence in the nation's two largest cities, it was emphasized that immigrants in New York City are more likely to gain political clout than immigrants in Los Angeles because many more immigrants in New York have legal status. Further, it is easier for immigrants to have political influence in New York's 52-seat city council than in Los Angeles, which has only 15 seats in its city council and a five-member board of supervisors.

There is much speculation about the "sleeping giant" of Latino political power in California. The number of Latinos in the California Senate and Assembly doubled from seven in 1992 to 14 in 1996, despite a decline in the number of Democrats in California. There are 10 Latinos in the 80 member Assembly, and four Latinos in the 40 member Senate.

About nine percent of California voters were Latino in 1992, 11 percent in 1994, and possibly 15 in 1996.

In Santa Clara county, California, the number of Mexican-born voters increased by 22 percent between February 1995 and February 1996, but they still were only 8,500 of the county's 728,000 registered voters. There are 14.1 million registered voters in California.

Some older immigrants in citizenship classes say they want to become US citizens because they fear that the government will cut off Medicare and Social Security benefits for legal immigrants.

"Study Tracks Asian Immigrants," AP, March 27, 1996. John Flynn Rooney, "4th District remap fell within constitutional boundaries despite factor of race; judges," Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, March 11, 1996. Matt O'Connor, "Federal Panel Backs 4th District Lines," Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1996. Jorge Oclander, "US Judges Uphold Hispanic District," Chicago Sun-Times, March 12, 1996. Celia Dugger, "Immigrant Voters Reshape Politics," New York Times, March 10, 1996. Richard Perez-Pena, "New York' Foreign-Born Population Increases, New York Times, March 9, 1996.