WESLACO, Texas – While there were bright spots in cities such as Edinburg, Alton and Palmview, much of the Rio Grande Valley recorded very poor population numbers, with minimal growth when a lot was expected.

Newly published data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the Valley’s population growth was lower than the statewide average. Valley leaders expressed their disappointment with the figures.

“Very disappointing,” said Willacy County Judge Aurelio ‘Keter’ Guerra, referring to the new official population for his county. “They are tremendously low,” Andrew Canon, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, said of the Valley’s figures overall. “We know that everybody is severely undercounted,” said Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

Texas’ population grew by 3,999,944 over the last ten years – from 25,145,561 in 2010 to 29,145,505 in 2020. That is an increase of 15.9 percent.

Hidalgo County’s population grew by 96,012 over the last ten years – from 774,769 in 2010 to 870,781 in 2020. That is an increase of 12.4 percent.

Cameron County’s population grew by 14,797 over the last ten years – from 406,220 in 2010 to 421,017 in 2020. That is an increase of 3.6 percent.

Starr County’s population grew by 4,952 over the last ten years – from 60,968 in 2010 to 65,920 in 2020. That is an increase of 8.1 percent.

Willacy County’s population dropped by 1,970 over the last ten years – from 22,134 in 2010 to 20,164 in 2020. That is a decrease of 8.9 percent.

Willacy County viewpoint

“It is very disappointing that we have gone from 22,000 and change to 20,000 and change,” said Guerra, the Willacy County judge.

Asked if he was expecting the decrease, Guerra said no.

“I did not expect us to grow very much, but I did not expect it to be less. It is shocking,” Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian. “Port Mansfield increased slightly but all our other cities saw their population drop.”

Willacy County Judge Aurelio ‘Keter’ Guerra

Guerra said he feared Covid-19 would have a negative impact on participation rates.

“I am not trying to dodge the results but we all knew coming into this the situation we faced with Covid. It was going to be a difficult time to do the census. But, those are the results and we are going to have to deal with it.”

Guerra said he is buoyed by potential development at Port Mansfield, which could mean thousands of new jobs.

“There is opportunity there at the port. Hopefully, we will be able to work together and support whatever the navigation district board of directors has going on right now,” Guerra said.

“The navigation district is kindly sharing its comprehensive plan with us. And we have one as well that is in the finishing stages, which was done through Texas A&M. We can compare these and see how we can work together. We are all in agreement, we need to have a plan in order to know where we are going.”

Guerra defended the work of the various economic development groups in Willacy County.

“We are here, listening to opportunities, specifically for the Port. The effort to improve economic development is in the forefront for cities and the county. I have witnessed this hard work, day in, day out. We are not expecting things to change without us trying to make a difference for the better.”

Guerra said there is no doubt in his mind that an undercount occurred in Willacy County.

“I think we have people in the right places, it is just a matter of things coming our way, faster. The effort is going to be there,” he added.

Edinburg viewpoint

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina

The population growth in Edinburg provided one the Valley’s few bright spots.

Its population grew from 77,100 in 2010 to 100,243 in 2020, an increase of 23,143, or 30.01 percent. 

As a result of Edinburg reaching 100,000, the city will now be granted an extra vote on the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, said Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina.

“It was announced yesterday that Edinburg now supersedes the 100,000 mark so they (the RGVMPO) are going to do an amendment to the bylaws to give Edinburg one more vote. I am excited to have two votes on the MPO,” Molina said.

“Everybody knew we were growing fast. In fact, Edinburg is the fastest growing city in the RGV.

“I am not surprised. I am just glad that everybody else now sees it. The judge from Cameron County recognized Edinburg and what we are doing.”

RGV MPO viewpoint

The subject of Census 2020 was brought up at the RGVMPO’s policy board meeting by Canon, the group’s executive director.

“They are tremendously low,” Canon said, referring to the Valley’s new official population. “I don’t think anybody is shocked by that, unfortunately.”

Canon said the one “highpoint” is Edinburg’s growth.

“Edinburg was the only local government entity to exceed the 50,000 bracket, so with that we will be coming back to the policy board next month, after we verify everything, for what we assume will be a bylaw amendment because there will be one additional vote awarded to the City of Edinburg for exceeding that 50,000 bracket to get over the 100,000 mark. Congratulations, mayor on the growth in Edinburg.”

Canon said he was particularly disappointed with the figures for Weslaco. In 2010, Weslaco had a population of 35,670. In 2020, the population was 40,160, an increase of 4,490, or 12.58 percent.

“We are concerned however because we think that some of the numbers came in tremendously low, Weslaco for example. I know my staff and I we were working on some numbers that we had a year ago where Weslaco was 48,000 and change. The official numbers came in at 40,000, 8,000 people below where we were so that is very unfortunate,” Canon said.

“We are going to see what can be done about it. There is probably nothing. We are going to investigate. We thought Weslaco would be our next partner at the table with exceeding that (50,000) count but that didn’t happen with the official numbers that we have.”

Treviño, the Cameron County judge, is the incoming chair of the RGVMPO. He agreed with Canon that the overall figures are bad for the Valley.

“I think we can all agree that… congratulations to Edinburg, they did a helluva job but even with that success we know that everybody is severely undercounted,” Treviño said. “What that equates to is too much money, again, that this region, that this Valley is not going to be receiving.”

Treviño urged the various cities on the RGVMPO policy board to try to get the Census numbers amended upwards.

“There is a mechanism, but it is all administrative, unfortunately, with regards to the undercount,” he said.

Harlingen viewpoint

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell said he is certain there was a big undercount in Cameron County. However, he said he was relieved his city showed and reasonable increase in population, unlike ten years ago. Harlingen’s population in 2010 was 64,849. In 2020 it was 71,829, an increase of 6,980 or 10.76 percent.

“While we are pretty confident that we were undercounted, like the entire Cameron County has been, we are still pleased that there was an official recognition of a double digit increase in the city of Harlingen, almost 11 percent. That is significantly better than the last decennial. It compares very favorably with other cities in the Rio Grande Valley,” Boswell said.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell

At a news conference at Boswell told Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports that there are better ways of counting a municipality’s population.

“We can calculate the number by electrical connections, and using standard multipliers that the State Demographer uses. We think we are closer to 85,000 or 88,000. But, again, we are pleased to see official recognition by the Census Bureau of double digits,” Boswell said.

“I don’t think the methodology used by the Census Bureau is the best methodology. They use an actual count methodology and with that you will miss people. For example, the state demographer uses other methodologies to calculate a city’s population, based upon objective numbers that like water hook ups and electric hook ups and other data that is more sophisticated. We have been using the same method since the start of the nation, it is just antiquated.”

Boswell said Covid-19 was the biggest reason for the Valley’s undercount.

“Because of Covid we were not able to do everything we intended to do to try to encourage people to register and be counted,” Boswell said. “Urban areas have more access to computers. They are more affluent and it is easier to get people to respond. They probably get counted better than areas which have a large low-income population like the Rio Grande Valley.”

Boswell did not think the undercount was caused by the fact that the Valley is predominately Spanish speaking. “There was good information about the census and everything was in English and Spanish. But, there are some people that are fearful of the government and maybe did not want to respond,” he said.

Congressional viewpoint

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar was asked about the Census 2020 numbers during a webinar he hosted last Friday. Asked by a reporter what feedback he was receiving from the leaders of cities and counties in his district and across South Texas, Cuellar said: “I have talked to some of the folks and yes there certainly is a feeling that we were undercounted. Every year we have that. Are we doing a good job in the colonias? Are we counting the colonias? Are we counting the rural areas?”

Cuellar said South Texas dodged a bullet when President Trump failed to include a U.S. citizenship question in the 2020 census questionnaire. He said he supported revisiting the census numbers for South Texas.

“We will see if there is anything that the (Biden) administration can do because it is not only important for redistricting at the local and the state and the federal level but I’m also concerned about (less) monies for the next ten years that will go to our schools, that will go to our hospitals, that will go to our transportation, not only the urban areas but especially in the rural areas.”

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service has posted a number of stories about the new figures from the Census Bureau. Click here to read the story headlined, “Alton’s leaders not surprised by city’s huge growth.” Click here to read the story headlined “Perales: Population changes in Texas are quite stunning.” Click here to read the story headlined “Census 2020: Edinburg, Alton, Palmview, Los Fresnos show big % gains.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district includes Webb County, Zapata County, Starr County and the western portion of Hidalgo County.

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