In New London, town officials have instructed their police to refrain from inquiring about a suspect's immigration status and are encouraging more Latinos to get involved in education and politics.
The city is the hub of New London County, where the Hispanic population has jumped 8 percent from 2010 to 2012 helping to fuel a statewide increase of 6.08 percent over that time.
Connecticut had 510,645 Hispanics by 2012, according to new figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau -- marking the first time the number has exceeded half a million.
"I think this is something to be welcomed and not something to be feared," said New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who noted his domestic partner is of Puerto Rican descent.
The numbers are probably higher than reported, according to State Sen. Andres Ayala, Jr., D-Bridgeport, because Latinos can be reluctant to fill out Census forms. In any event, he said the growing Latino community must be engaged in the rest of society, politically and otherwise. Part of that is encouraging Latinos to not only register to vote -- but to show up at the polls on Election Day, Ayala said.
"It really requires an enormous amount of effort to ensure that this isn't a community that's in the shadows," said Ayala, one of Connecticut's first Latino state senators.
There were 496,644 Hispanics in Connecticut in 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau data show.
"The Hispanic population projection data … continue to confirm the rapid growth of this segment of the population in our state that already reached 14.2% of the general population," Werner Oyanadel, acting executive director of Connecticut's Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said in a written statement.
He noted that the Latino population has increased nearly 50 percent in the last decade -- with a growth rate almost 12 times faster than the general population.
"This population shift in our state without a doubt will have an impact in Connecticut in a broad range of areas that will require policymakers to review the reallocation of resources on areas such as: education, housing and transportation just to name a few," he added.
Nelson J. Rodriguez, president of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, said the data means two things for the state, particularly related to the towns and cities that are just now experiencing an influx of Latino immigrants. First, Rodriguez said, the state should be thinking of ways for municipalities to provide appropriate education and health care to a much more diverse population to get ahead of future demand on city services. Secondly, he said, the state must explore ways to help local businesses meet the anticipated growing demand for products and services.
"There is an opportunity here for business to take advantage of these changes," he said, "and it likely needs to be pointed out to folks on the ground who may be unaware of the demographic shifts."
The percentage of Hispanics grew in each Connecticut county from 2010 to 2012. Middlesex County rose the most: 9.79 percent, to 8,624, according to the statistics. New London County came in second at 8.08 percent, to 25,167, the numbers show. Third was Litchfield County at 7.59 percent, to 9,210, according to the data.
The City of New London has experienced "significant growth" in its Latino community, which now makes up more than a quarter of the population, according to Finizio. Fifty-six percent of New London's student population is of Latino descent, he said.
"I think this has been a strength of our community," he said.
The mayor ticked off various moves he's taken to help Latinos become a more integrated part of the community, including:
- making it clear to local police that they are prohibited from inquiring about immigration status -- unless the question is part of a federal investigation into illegal immigration -- to help the Latino population feel comfortable reporting crime, which has been happening.
- advocating for new state legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses.
- pushing to have New London High School transformed into a sports medicine academy to train students, including the numerous Latinos, for health-care jobs that are on the rise -- and that could help them support their families later on.
- touching base with religious and spiritual organizations -- and encouraging Latinos to get more involved in education and politics. He noted that although Latinos make up more than quarter of the city's population, a Latino has yet to serve on the seven-member City Council.
Percentages aside, raw numbers from Connecticut show Fairfield County with the largest number of Hispanics: 166,186 in 2012. Hartford County ranked second, with 145,127 Hispanics in 2012. Taking third place was New Haven County, with 137,422 Hispanics in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. The state's total population in 2012 was 3.6 million.
Statewide, Latinos, as well as other members of society, must be provided with accessible housing, education and jobs, including entrepreneurial opportunities, Ayala noted.
"At the end of the day," Ayala added, "it's about really thinking about what are the things that the State of Connecticut needs to do to ensure that prosperity is available for all."
Nationwide, the Hispanic population grew by 2.2 percent, or more than 1.1 million, to just over 53 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Connecticut ranks somewhere in the middle when it comes to Hispanic population growth rate in each of the states, according to the data. But Connecticut was one of the states that lost the most (Hispanic and non-Hispanic) white population: 0.3 percent. Only Ohio and Rhode Island lost more.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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