RIO HONDO, Texas – Cameron County Clerk Sylvia Garza-Perez says the next push to secure a high Census 2020 count is to focus on WIC centers. 

Women, Infants and Children centers are federally funded to provide healthy supplemental foods, nutrition counseling for pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children under age five. 

Garza-Perez pointed out that, per capita, a high number of children under five were not counted in the 2010 census. She and other Cameron County leaders want to put that right this time around.

“We are scheduling some of the (census) workers to be at the WIC offices, so we get the mothers of the children and their families counted,” Garza-Perez said.

“We will be talking to the health directors at the centers to see which ones have the highest traffic flow. And we will have someone to sit there to do the intake.”

Looking back at the 2010 census, Garza-Perez said: “The numbers show that five percent of those not counted in 2010 were children under the age of five. So, if we can reach a mom and get her kids counted, that is the icing on the cake. We are doing whatever we can to get a high census count.”

According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, the self-response rate for Cameron County is 49.8 percent. The self-response rate for Texas as a whole is 60.9 percent, while the national average is 65.3 percent.

Garza-Perez and other county leaders have been working with communities where the self-response rate has been low. Census outreach events have recently been held in Port Isabel, San Benito, Santa Rosa, Cameron Park, Los Indios, Combes and Rio Hondo. Future events will be held in the Southmost part of Brownsville and San Pedro.

The Rio Grande Guardian’s exclusive interview with Garza-Perez came at the event in Rio Hondo. During the interview the county clerk pointed out that Cameron County’s self-response rate was 56.4 percent in 2010. She said the target in 2020 is to beat it. “For Cameron County to get a one percent increase you have to count 1,232 households. Hopefully, here at Rio Hondo, we have made a dent.”

Asked if mixed-status families – those comprising the documented and undocumented – are still worried about completing their census form, Garza-Perez said: “Early on, before the census kicked out, we did a lot of parent involvement groups in various schools. We worked with a lot of the community leaders from the school districts that are in charge of parent involvement. We told the parents, it does not matter if you are here legally, if your kids are in the school, we need them to be counted because that brings more money to the school district.”

Garza-Perez said: “Parents were in shock knowing how much money was on the table and how much money could be lost if their child was not included.”

Teachers are helping with the census outreach effort by stressing its importance to the students, the county clerk said. “Your child, if he or she is five years of age, can come home and tell you, the teacher says, get counted.”

Garza-Perez said the point she is making now to the immigrant mothers of Cameron County is: “That your three year old cannot get counted unless you do it. In my communication to the parents, I am saying, you are your child’s advocate. If you want your child to have a better opportunity, you’ve got to be civically minded and you’ve got to take that proactive approach to say I am going to get that child counted. I may not be here legally but I am going to do whatever I can to make sure my child is counted.”

Garza-Perez was quick to point out that every resident is entitled to be counted; that one’s immigration status is irrelevant.

“We are telling them nothing is going to happen; don’t be afraid of this. I think the message has gotten through. There are only ten questions on the census form and none of them ask if you are a citizen or not,” she said.

“Early on we took samples of the questionnaire and educated the public about it. I am hoping that message has already got out. I know a lot of people do not want to come out because of the pandemic but, I think that message has been touched, has been communicated and received. We are just hoping for the best.”

Garza-Perez is proud of the efforts Cameron County communities are making to build up their census count. She partnerships between cities, school districts and the county are helping. “There are a lot of communities gearing up, holding barbecues, raffles, whatever it takes, just to make sure our numbers increase.”

Garza-Perez said that for the sake of the children, if for no other reason, Cameron County residents need complete their census forms. 

“My biggest concern is we have a lot of good people that live in the Rio Grande Valley. It is unfortunate that when our kids graduate from here they have to leave and look for jobs elsewhere because we do not have the economy everybody else has across Texas,” she said.

“We have the language barrier that impacts us. We have the immigration issue that impacts us as well. Now we have COVID that has hit us in the pit of our stomach. We have to do whatever we can do to talk to to people and make every effort to get counted. If we don’t we are losing out on a lot of money.”

Garza-Perez said that money can improve the county’s infrastructure, highways and, potentially, help fund a second causeway for South Padre Island.

“But, it can also help our schools. A lot of parents complain they have to buy school supplies. If we were to count every child that attends an elementary school in Cameron County we would not have to buy school supplies for our kids. We would have money in our school districts allotted to things such as that,” Garza-Perez explained.

“I know a lot the school districts have really had to dip into their pockets to buy iPads for their kids. It is not fair the low-income kids do not to have an iPad, do not have broadband at home to do their homework. Without a good census count our kids are going to lose out. The kids are our future. We have got to provide them the opportunity.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Cameron County Clerk Sylvia Garza-Perez.

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