Florida Reps. Luis Garcia, D-Miami, and Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, today sharply criticized comments made by state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, about Florida Hispanics on Tuesday.

In a letter, Garcia writes: “It is with great disappointment that I write to you regarding the recent public remarks made at the Senate Redistricting Committee Meeting concerning Florida’s Hispanic community.”

The Miami Herald reports that Hays said during Tuesday’s reapportionment committee meeting:

Before we design a district anywhere in the state of Florida for Hispanic voters, we need to ascertain that they are citizens of the United States. We all know there are many Hispanic-speaking people in Florida that are not legal. And I just don’t think it’s right that we try to draw a district that encompoasses people that really have no business voting anyhow.

You can listen to Hays’ comments here:

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Garcia’s letter adds:

For Senator Alan Hays to say that Central Florida’s booming Hispanic community should not have full representation and warn that “illegals” are the reason to ignore this sector of Florida’s growing population is not only offensive, but serves no purpose in the contentious and challenging process of reapportionment.

Further, it may be worth spending some time at your next Redistricting meeting educating committee members on citizenship rights, and the fact that the vast majority of Orlando’s Hispanic community are Puerto Ricans, which are American citizens by birth and eligible to vote. Ignorance is no excuse in this important process and if members lack some basic information, then we should inform them of the facts.

Garcia closes his letter urging Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Speaker of the House Dean Cannon to have Hays apologize for his comments.

Cruz issued a release that says: “It is essential that this process remain unbiased, fair and unprejudiced. It is evident now that Senator Hays cannot meet these qualifications, and Latinos in Florida should be concerned about their fair representation when the lines are in the hands of legislators like Senator Alan Hays.”

The Pew Hispanic Center indicates that most of the 2.7 million (.pdf) Puerto Ricans living in the United States “were born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia,” adding that “one-third of the Puerto Rican population in the U.S. — 1.4 million — was born in Puerto Rico. People born in Puerto Rico are also considered native born because they are U.S. citizens by birth.”

The Center adds: “Orange County, where Orlando is located,” has a “Hispanic voting population (.pdf) of 166,000 or 11 percent of the state’s Latino electorate. Two-thirds are of Puerto Rican origins. Latinos account for 14 percent of the county’s voters.

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