LAGUNA HEIGHTS, Texas – La Unión del Pueblo Entero members say their efforts to get a strong Census 2020 completion rate in Laguna Heights have just been undermined by the Trump administration.
The one-two punch from Washington started with President Trump’s memorandum not to count undocumented immigrants. Laguna Heights, an unincorporated area next to Port Isabel, has, LUPE believes, a large number of undocumented residents, perhaps as high as 40 percent.
“Trump is attempting to intimidate immigrants and people of color from participating in the Census count so he can redraw political districts to dilute the voting power of our communities. But we fought back against Trump’s Citizenship question in the courts and won – the Citizenship question won’t be on the 2020 Census,” LUPE Executive Director Juanita Valdez-Cox said.
“We will keep fighting for our community. We know that when we get accurate information about the Census into the hands of our neighbors, showing that it does not include a Citizenship question and that the information collected is confidential, our neighbors are much more likely to participate. That’s why every person we reach with our 2020 Census campaign will be critical for the future well-being of the region.”
Making LUPE’s census outreach work even harder in Laguna Heights and other colonias, the U.S. Census Bureau announced this week that it would stop field data collection on September 30, not October 31, as expected.
LUPE, in conjunction with the Census Bureau, organized a caravan in Laguna Heights on Monday to encourage residents to fill out their census forms. LUPE community organizer Agripina Gomez led the effort.
“It went great. We had a great turnout. We collaborated with the Census Bureau and had about 15 cars on the caravan,” Gomez said.
Laguna Heights had a population of 3,488 at the 2010 Census. Asked why LUPE was focusing on the colonia, Gomez said: “We think the self-response rate for Laguna Heights is about 10.5 percent. It is not good. It is very low.”
The self-response rate for Texas as a whole is currently 57.9 percent. The rate for Port Isabel is 29.7 percent. The rate for Laguna Vista, a wealthier community not far from Laguna Heights is 57.4 percent. The rate for Cameron County is 46.3 percent.
Asked why the percentage is so low in Laguna Heights, Gomez said: “There is a general lack of understanding on what the census is about. And, most people do not have a mail box. They get their mail via PO Box. They did not get the first letter from the Census Bureau.”
The reason many Laguna Heights residents did not get a census form is the Census Bureau does not send documents to PO boxes.
Gomez said LUPE’s efforts to get a good self-response rate in Laguna Heights has also been impacted by COVID-19. She said the community group has had to protect the health of volunteers who would normally have gone door-to-door.
LUPE was hoping the Census Bureau would send enumerators door-to-door in so-called “hard-to-count” communities like Laguna Heights. However, the community group is concerned that may not happen now that the counting period has been shrunk by a month.
“We just want to increase the number in Laguna Heights. We have to educate the community and encourage them to fill out the census forms,” Gomez said. “We know Laguna Heights is a very diverse community with many undocumented immigrants. But, we do not ask questions about citizenship.”
Gomez added: “Laguna Heights has been a challenge. We set up a mobile response site in a local neighborhood store, in coordination with the Census Bureau. We are trying many strategies to make sure people fill out their census forms.”
Census data is used to apportion federal funding and congressional and state House representation. The Rio Grande Valley is currently lagging the statewide self-response rate. While Cameron County’s self-response rate is 46.3 percent, Hidalgo County’s is 48.2 percent, Starr County’s is 41.0 percent, and Willacy County’s is 37.0 percent. If these low percentages continue it will have huge ramifications for the amount of funding the region receives from Washington, D.C., over the next decade.
Lawsuits have been filed challenging President Trump’s new order to block people who are undocumented from being counted in the U.S. census.
Attorneys for the ACLU of Texas, New York Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union, and Arnold & Porter will appear remotely today before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of the U.S. District Court in New York.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus viewpoint
One group upset with recent developments at the Census Bureau is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
CHC Chairman Joaquin Castro issued this statement:
“The Trump administration is sabotaging the 2020 Census. By stopping the collection of data next month, it’s clear the Administration has no intention of fulfilling its constitutional obligation of a complete and accurate count of the U.S. population.
“Earlier this spring, due the coronavirus crisis, the Census Bureau asked Congress to delay the delivery of apportionment data to the President and redistricting data to the states by a combined 120 days. The House has already approved these extensions in the Heroes Act, and these provisions must be included in the next coronavirus relief package. After directives from the White House, the Census Bureau is now trying to reverse course to appease political pressure for a rushed timeline and an incomplete count. This malfeasance is unacceptable.
“The Supreme Court denied President Trump’s unlawful attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census. The Administration’s recent policy memorandum on excluding undocumented Americans is an attempt to reverse engineer the same corrupt outcome. This partisan scheme is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s mandate to count every single person and it will not be tolerated. Let’s be clear: the Trump administration is doing everything it can to decrease representation and reduce resources for Latinos and immigrants over the next decade.
“The American people have the ability to take action and ensure we have an accurate count by filling out their household’s Census — go to 2020census.gov. It takes less than five minutes and will not only direct funding and representation to your community, but this simple action will help protect our democracy.”
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