State keeps title as most Hispanic state in nation
SANTA FE — New Mexico has retained its title as the nation's most heavily Hispanic state, with 47.7% of respondents to the 2020 census identifying ancestry linked to Latin America and other Spanish-speaking areas.
The Census Bureau on Aug. 12 released new demographic details culled from the census.
California and Texas were close runners up, with about 39% of residents claiming Latino or Hispanic heritage. Nearly 31% of Arizona residents describe themselves as Hispanic.
In New Mexico, Latino pride runs deep within a region of the U.S. where Spanish conquerors arrived in the late 1500s and Mexico governed for decades during the 19th century. The state is currently led by its third consecutive Hispanic governor.
The new numbers on ethnicity and race have implications for the political redistricting process as states redraw congressional and legislative districts later this year with an eye toward preserving communities of common interest. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits plans that intentionally or inadvertently discriminate on the basis of race by diluting the minority vote.
The share of New Mexico residents who identify themselves as Indigenous by race or by combined ancestry was 12.4%. Alaska was the most predominantly Native American state, followed by Oklahoma and then New Mexico.
An earlier set of data released in April showed New Mexico's population grew by 2.8% over the past decade, making it one of the slowest growing states in the U.S. West, adding about 58,000 residents to a population over just over 2.1 million.
In the West, only Wyoming had a slower growth rate. The U.S. had 331 million residents last year, a 7.4% increase from 2010.
Prosecutors offer plea deal to Cowboys for Trump founder
SANTA FE — Federal prosecutors have offered a confidential plea agreement to Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin that might resolve misdemeanor criminal charges against him linked to the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol, according to discussions at an Aug. 9 court hearing in Washington.
The county commissioner from New Mexico still denies federal charges that he knowingly entering barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent of disrupting government as Congress considered the 2020 Electoral College results.
Griffin reached an outside terrace of the Capitol without entering the building and used a bullhorn to try to lead a tumultuous crowd in prayer. He was arrested after his return to Washington to oppose President Joe Biden's inauguration.
Griffin's case inched toward trial in U.S. District Court in Washington as federal prosecutors have introduced vast troves on evidence about the Capitol siege from security cameras, police lapel recordings and social media posts.
The charges against Griffin carry a maximum prison sentence of one year and implications for Griffin's future in public office.
As a first-term commissioner in southern New Mexico's Otero County, Griffin faces a petition drive to to recall him from office with a special election and a probe by state prosecutors of allegations that Griffin used his public office in coordination with Cowboys for Trump for personal financial gain.
Rural population losses add to farm and ranch labor shortage
OMAHA — Rural America lost more population in the latest census, highlighting an already severe worker shortage in the nation's farming and ranching regions and drawing calls from those industries for immigration reform to help ease the problem.
The census data released on Aug. 12 showed that population gains in many rural areas were driven by increases in Hispanic and Latino residents, many of whom come as immigrants to work on farms or in meatpacking plants or to start their own businesses.
The population trend is clear in Nebraska, where only 24 of the state's 93 counties gained residents. Of those 24, just eight reported an increase in the white population, suggesting that most of the growth was driven by minorities, said David Drozd, a research coordinator for the University of Nebraska Omaha's Center for Public Affairs Research.
Drozd crunched the census data and found that Nebraska counties with the greatest racial diversity are a "who's who of where the meatpacking plants are," even though many plants are in rural areas that are often perceived as mostly white.
The National Pork Producers Council is pushing federal lawmakers to change the H-2A visa program so that migrant workers can remain employed longer.
In Kansas, some rural Republicans say Congress needs to find a practical solution.
Nancy Weeks, secretary of the Haskell County Republican Party in southwestern Kansas, said if immigrants living in the United States illegally want to move to the area and work, they should be provided a way to gain legal status "so that they pay taxes like I do."
Al Juhnke, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, said his group would like to see changes that would allow seasonal immigrant workers to stay in the country longer.
"These folks buy houses. They bring their families. They go to our churches. They earn money and spend it locally," he said. "It's really a win-win-win for these communities."
Rachel Gantz, a spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Council, said her group will continue to press Congress for changes.
"Simply put, pork producers are drawing from a rapidly diminishing pool of applicants," she said.
Mormon leaders urge members to mask up, get vaccine
SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renewed its prior calls to members to get a COVID-19 vaccine and to wear face masks in public gatherings Aug. 12.
Church leaders said in a statement that available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective and urged members to help limit the spread of the virus. The message was the latest in a series of statements from church leaders encouraging vaccination efforts against COVID-19.
In Utah, where the church is based, a summer surge of the virus among unvaccinated residents has continued to grow while vaccination rates have slightly increased.
New data from the Utah Health Department showed that state residents who are unvaccinated are 7.6 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and 6.2 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are vaccinated.
About 58% of Utah residents ages 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 12, state data showed.
Former tribal president Kelsey Begaye dies at age 70
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation officials have called for all flags on the vast reservation be flown at half-staff to honor former tribal President Kelsey Begaye.
They said Begaye, who served as Navajo Nation president from 1999 to 2003, died of natural causes Aug. 15 in Flagstaff. He was 70.
Current Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that Begaye "was a very humble and loving person who overcame adversities at a young age and turned to his faith to become a loving family man, a Vietnam veteran and a great leader for his people."
Begaye was born in Kaibeto, Arizona and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969. He served four years as a radio operator while in Vietnam.
Tribal officials said Begaye later became a substance abuse counselor in the mid-1970s though 1990s, helping many young people overcome drug and alcohol abuse.
After serving two terms as the speaker of the tribal council, Begaye was elected the fifth president of the Navajo Nation in November 1998.