SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State senators in New Mexico are moving to create a bipartisan Legislative Hispanic Caucus amid declining Latino leadership numbers.

Their action comes as the Democratic-led New Mexico Senate is facing criticism from a national group representing Hispanic elected officials over the lack of diversity in its leadership.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria submitted a letter Thursday to the New Mexico Senate seeking formal recognition of the caucus in a state with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation. "Hispanics continue to be underrepresented in positions of power in government, including the Legislature, and in the private sector," the letter said.

Sen. John Sapien, a Corrales Democrat, said that he and other Hispanic lawmakers previously opted not to form a caucus since there were Hispanics in legislative leadership positions. But, he says, that changed in recent days after Senate Democrats selected an all-white leadership team for the first time since 1986.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said he was shocked to learn that the New Mexico Senate Democrats elected a leadership team without any Hispanics.

"I can see this happening in New Mexico in 1818, not 2018," Vargas said. "So I am glad New Mexico is creating a Hispanic Caucus."

Candelaria said the caucus will focus on poverty and education issues around the state's Hispanic communities.

Vargas said a caucus could increase Latino leadership and help with legislation aimed at aiding Hispanics.

For example, Vargas said most legislation in California can't get passed without the approval from the Hispanic Caucus there.