EDINBURG, RGV – As expected, Hidalgo County is to join nationwide litigation opposing the inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 Census questionnaire.

Hidalgo County Commissioners Court today voted to join the multi-state lawsuit and hire attorney Rolando Rios to represent the county.

Rios, who is based in San Antonio, has represented the county twice in past Census challenges. He represented the county in challenging the 2010 census results and in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce over the 2000 census.

Rolando Rios

In previous weeks, Hidalgo County Commissioners Court has passed a resolution opposed to a citizenship question being included on the Census 2020 form. The Court has also written to U.S. senators and representatives in Congress voicing their concerns.

“Hidalgo County has historically been undercounted in the past,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Eduardo ‘Eddie’ Cantu, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting. “Including extraneous questions, such as whether a person is a citizen, is not necessary to the process and will, in fact, deter some people from participating.”

Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu

Although it is one of the fastest growing areas in the state, Hidalgo County has historically been undercounted, Cantu pointed out. This can translate into millions of dollars in losses to the area, he said.

To help ensure an accurate count, Hidalgo County Commissioners Court formed a census coalition committee to provide accurate addresses and other information to assist census workers in reaching all residents.

Cantu pointed out that the lawsuit has been spearheaded nationally by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and includes Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington in addition to various cities and counties throughout the country.

County Judge Ramon Garcia said Hidalgo County, and the entire region, has faced many challenges during previous Census efforts that have led to significant undercounts.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia

“Our voices aren’t being represented by our state’s leadership. It is clear we must act on this disconnect between our region’s priorities and those of the state,” said Garcia. “This shouldn’t be a political topic. The Constitution mandates that all those residing in the United States be counted. This question directly interferes with a fair and accurate enumeration.”

The concern for Hidalgo County Commissioners is that if a citizenship question is added to the 2020 Census, many local residents will ignore the census form. This may be the favored course of action for mixed status families, for fear that the forms would be passed on to ICE and undocumented members of the families rounded up and deported.

“For every person not counted, the region loses out on about $15,700 over a 10-year span,” said Garcia. “If ten thousand people are not counted, it would equal a net loss of about $157 million over a decade.”

Recently, Garcia penned letters to House and Senate leaders urging them to ensure questions surrounding a person’s citizenship status be removed.

“I send this letter to express my concern and objection to the inclusion of the citizenship question to the Census Form. Like many communities around the nation, I urge you to hold oversight hearings promptly and take action to ensure this question does not appear on the Census Questionnaire,” Garcia said.

“It is unlikely that our state will join in lawsuits against the Census Bureau and Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 census questionnaire. But we need to act, because our county will be severely impacted.”

The letter to congressional leaders targeted U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson who chairs the Senate Committee of Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Copies were sent also to the ranking members and local representatives.

The letter pointed out that Hidalgo County is the seventh most populous of 254 counties in Texas.

“The Constitutional mandate is that all those residing in the United States be counted. I urge you to take action to ensure this requirement is met and partisan politics and anti-immigrant sentiments do not obstruct and impair the Census process,” the letter concludes.

RGV Equal Voice Network

Appearing before a recent Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting, members of the RGV Equal Voice Network spoke out against a citizenship question being added to the 2020 Census form.

The resolution Hidalgo County Commissioners Court passed opposing a citizen question being added to the 2020 Census won the support of the RGV Equal Voice Network. This coalition comprises eight nonprofit organizations with more than 300,000 members.

Members of the RGV Equal Voice Network are on Hidalgo County’s census coalition committee. which is one of several organizations included in the Census Committee.

“The inclusion of the citizenship question is expected to further exacerbate the historical undercounting of the Latino population throughout the country and in Hidalgo County,” said Christina Patiño Houle, network weaver for the Equal Voice group.

Christina Patiño Houle

Patiño Houle was joined at a recent commissioners court meeting by representatives from La Unión Del Pueblo Entero.

“An internet-based Census, Census Bureau funding shortage, and anti-immigrant rhetoric pose new challenges for our region with now a greater challenge being imposed by adding a citizenship question to the Census Questionnaire,” the county resolution reads.

The resolution stresses that the constitutional mandate is that all people residing in the United States be counted and that asking if the responder is a citizen will deter residents from responding and will negatively affect our region’s congressional, state, and local representation, as well as funding for programs and infrastructure vital to the community’s continued development.

Patiño Houle said the county has made great strides to overcome challenges with the 2020 Census Committee.

“The County Judge’s historical knowledge of the importance of the census has been critical in the process of preparing for 2020,” Houle said. “The Equal Voice Network has been working closely with the County Judge to prepare for an accurate count in the 2020 Census and our collaborative efforts have been recognized: for the first time there will be an area census office placed in Hidalgo County, scheduled to open in 2019.”

Patiño Houle commended the county for taking the lead in bringing together a coalition of city and community leaders as well as representatives from other organizations and entities with the goal of ensuring an accurate count in 2020.

“We applaud Judge Garcia and Assistant Chief of Staff Erika Reyna for their leadership on the census and the Commissioners Court for modeling how at the local and regional level,” Patiño Houle said. “We can embody the principles of democracy this country was built upon, even when those values are being challenged at the federal level.”