Robert Santos Becomes 1st Latino To Head The U.S. Census

“He’s perfectly suited for the job,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. “He understands the importance of a diverse country and the importance of counting every single person in every community, and I know he’s going to make that central to the job that he does.”

In his new role, Santos will face the major task of addressing complaints that the 2020 census failed to count millions of Black and Latino residents, diminishing their political representation and reducing funding for government programs that serve them.

Several recent analyses — including one in which Santos participated as a vice president and chief methodologist at the Washington-based Urban Institute — have reached the same conclusion. The institute’s study estimated that Texas had the highest statewide undercount of Black and Latino Americans in raw numbers, omitting nearly 380,000 people from the state’s final tally.

Diversity and inclusion have been priorities for Santos throughout his career, and he has spoken often and publicly about the importance of accurately counting minority groups. Santos told a U.S. House committee in 2020 that undercounting those populations “only reinforces inequities in political representation, federal funding to local communities, and economic and public health opportunities.”

IN-DEPTH: What to know about the San Antonio native tapped to lead U.S. Census Bureau

Santos, a third-generation Mexican American, is the first person of color to be confirmed as Census Bureau director on a permanent basis. James Holmes, who is African American, served as acting director on a temporary basis in 1998.

“It’s an honor and privilege to serve,” Santos tweeted.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund said in a statement Wednesday that Santos must rebuild trust in the bureau after a 2020 census challenged by the pandemic, natural disasters, delays and attempts at political interference by the Trump administration.

“It is imperative that Director Santos leads the bureau to conduct critical evaluations and provide data quality indicators to help inform our understanding of a potential undercount,” the fund said. “Additionally, the bureau must proactively assess the impact of an undercount of Latinos on the full range of activities for which Census 2020 data are used, including civil rights enforcement and federal funding.”

The organization also is pressing Santos to conduct additional research on modernizing census questions about Hispanic origin and race — a topic Santos has spoken about candidly.

“When I fill out the census form, I check the Latino-Hispanic-Mexican American box,” Santos told KERA, a public radio station in North Texas, in 2019. “And when it comes to race, I mark ‘other’ and insert ‘mestizo’ because that’s how I feel about race and ethnicity.”

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, tweeted a photo of the swearing-in ceremony early Wednesday. With more than four decades of experience in the field, Santos is “well-positioned to lead our nation’s foremost provider of quality data about its people and economy,” she said.

Santos most recently served as president of the American Statistical Association, in addition to his roles at the Urban Institute.

“Mr. Santos is a tremendous leader, and I have full confidence that he will lead the Census Bureau with integrity in the years ahead,” Raimondo


Santos, whose term expires in 2026, will oversee preparations for the 2030 census.

RELATED: San Antonio native Robert Santos becomes first Latino to lead U.S. Census Bureau

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Santos grew up just south of Woodlawn Lake. He attended Little Flower Catholic School and Holy Cross High School. His parents worked at Kelly AFB.

He attended San Antonio Community College and later earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Trinity University in 1976. He went on to earn a master’s degree in statistics at the University of Michigan in 1977.

Henry Cisneros, a former San Antonio mayor and former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, called Santos a “genuine, grounded product of San Antonio neighborhoods.”

His accomplishments serve as an example for the city’s next generation of ambitious young people, Cisneros said.

“It’s helpful for the world to see that we can produce that level of excellence and leadership, and San Antonio is a good platform for that,” said Cisneros, who added that he and his siblings attended the same elementary school as the new Census Bureau director.

Outside of work, Santos is known for his love of grilling, fishing and hunting. He had a longtime side gig as a photo crew chief for the SXSW Festival in Austin, helping to manage about 100 photographers each year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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First Hispanic director of the Census Bureau sworn in


First Hispanic director of the Census Bureau sworn in