HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, announced it's filing a federal lawsuit on Monday against the City of Houston, alleging the city violated the civil rights of Latinos and that the city council severely lacks Latino representation.
"I don't see this lawsuit as hurting Houston or has anything against Houston. I just see it as helping Houston to live up to what it advertises itself as - the most diverse city in America. Which it is. But diversity without 45% of the population being represented on your city council is a little hard to buy," Plaintiff Anthony Rios said on Monday.
ABC13 first reported on LULAC's plans earlier this year. One out of 16 of Houston's city council members is Hispanic, representing the 45% of Hispanic Houstonians.
LULAC National President Domingo Garcia said earlier in the year that the lawsuit aimed to challenge the at-large system in Houston as discriminatory and a violation of the voting rights act. "And also, we're looking at gathering signatures to let the citizens of Houston decide."
Garcia was joined by Sergio Lira, LULAC Redistricting Committee Chair, and Marty Golando, LULAC Lead Attorney, announcing the lawsuit at Houston's City Hall.
Ahead of the lawsuit filing, LULAC said, "Presently, voters elect 11 members in district-wide elections; voters citywide elect five members at large. The at-large seats deny Latinos a fair shot at increasing representation on the municipal policy-making body. The goal of LULAC is an all-single-member Houston City Council like San Antonio, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, and El Paso."
"First, I'm proud being a Latino on city council, but then again, I'm embarrassed knowing that we're almost half the population, but yet I'm the only Latino on city council," said Robert Gallegos in January. Gallegos represents District I, which includes the East End, downtown, the Hobby Airport area, and parts of northeast Houston.
Gallegos has been the only Hispanic member for six years, which activists with LULAC say shows a broken system.
Some say, at-large seats offer valuable city-wide representation, but political experts point out that those campaigns require more resources.
"Because Houston's Latino population is less organized, less wealthy, and less influential, we don't see the outcry," said Mark Jones with Rice University. "Latinos can make a case now because we've now had 45 elections where not a single Latino has won an at-large seat, despite representing 45% of the city population. That itself is evidence that at-large districts discriminate against Latinos."
"It's also unlikely that given this low level of representation that Latinos are being represented in areas like transportation, public safety, infrastructure," Jones said.
"My office receives calls from other districts of Hispanics that call my office for assistance, and we have to direct the calls to their seats," Gallegos told ABC13 in January.
LULAC is the nation's largest and oldest Hispanic civil rights volunteer-based organization. The group says its goal is to empower Hispanic Americans and build strong Latino communities.
City of Houston Attorney Arturo G. Michel released the following statement:
The City held numerous hearings regarding redistricting and solicited alternative plans. Its goal included providing an equal opportunity for all voters to elect candidates of their choice, preserve communities of interest, and avoid diluting the voting strength of any group of voters. The City expects that evidence presented in this lawsuit will support its adopted plan which is consistent with the City Charter.