EDINBURG, RGV – The amount of work required to ensure everyone in Hidalgo County gets counted in the 2020 Census became clear at a Texas House Committee on Redistricting hearing last Friday.

At the hearing, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez confidently predicted that the census count would show his county at over a million people.

However, a senior demographer at the Texas Demographic Center, Dr. Lila Valencia, said her agency’s projections put Hidalgo County’s population in 2020 at only 870,000.

The above population projection for the four counties in the Rio Grande Valley was part of a powerpoint presentation by Dr. Lila Valencia of the Texas Demographic Center.

“The projections for Hidalgo County take it from about 774,000 (in 2010) to over 870,000 by 2020,” Valencia said. “The next most populous county is Cameron County which is projected to grow to about 427,000.”

The difference between Cortez’s projection and that of the Texas Demographic Office could be the undercount the Hidalgo County judge has been warning about. At the hearing, Cortez told lawmakers that Hidalgo County has been historically undercounted because many of its residents are undocumented, distrustful of government and prefer to live in the shadows.

“We are very proud of who we are and the community we are. In fact, we are going to be, if we are not already, the seventh largest county in Texas. The (2020) census will certainly show that we are a million people,” Cortez testified.

“History documents that we are an area that has been undercounted. primarily because we have a large percentage of our population that is undocumented.”

Cortez said an accurate census count would allow Hidalgo County to receive the federal funding it deserves to improve infrastructure and fight poverty.

Cortez noted that of the 4.2 million additional residents that came to Texas over the past decade, 2.8 million were Hispanic in origin.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

“Well, we are largely made up of Hispanics down here in Hidalgo County, so I would imagine that Texas is going to start looking a little bit like us.”

State Rep. Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford, chairs the House redistricting committee. King asked Cortez if his county was conducting census outreach work. King was pleased with what he heard.

“Yes, we are using technology, we have the satellite, which took pictures of our whole county,” Cortez replied. “We identified approximately almost 15,000 new households that were not registered before. We also found out that we have 5,000 addresses that were incorrect. And we corrected 10,000 new addresses. So, we have pretty well identified all of the areas.”

Cortez said the 2010 Census was flawed because too many of the census workers operating in the Rio Grande Valley were from outside the area. Many locals were wary of them, he said.

“Most of the undercount comes from our rural areas and those people that have to go a long way to work and they really live in the shadows, so to speak. We are trying to bring local people to those neighborhoods, make them feel comfortable.”

Cortez added that Hidalgo County has a “very aggressive program to reach everyone, to let them know how important it is, how easy it is, but also how safe it is.”

Cortez praised the county’s partners, such as school districts and nonprofits.

“I believe Hidalgo County is doing a much better job in trying to make sure that we are going to be counted.”

State Rep. Phil King

King said Texas is on course to get three additional congressional seats and possibly four. That apportionment would only happen, though, if everyone gets counted.

In her testimony, Dr. Valencia, a Brownsville native, praised Cortez for Hidalgo County’s census outreach work.

“The state has a number of significant challenges in achieving this count. Places like Hidalgo County are doing great work to ensure their communities are counted in 2020,” Valencia said.

“I really feel I have to brag a little bit more on the efforts that are happening in Hidalgo County. His (Judge Cortez) staff is doing amazing work, it is exemplary.”

Valencia said Hidalgo County’s work on the census is being recognized not only throughout Texas but nationwide.

“Their efforts are being used as models across the country. They have so many innovative ideas, a lot of energy,” Valencia said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of this was born from a realization that there was a great undercount in 2010. The hopes are this will be remedied in 2020. They are doing amazing work.”

Dr. Lila Valencia

Like King, Valencia said Texas is projected to gain three congressional seats following the next census. She pointed out that there are “billions of dollars at stake for many programs that help to fund healthcare, after school programs, transportation projects and economic development in rural areas.”

Valencia said Texas’ population was just under 29 million in 2018.

“This puts us right on track to gain about three congressional seats. Depending on how accurate that count is we could gain up to four seats. We have been growing more than any other state. Whether we get that fourth seat is more of a question,” she said.

The growth of the Texas population over the past decade has been about 14 percent growth, Valencia said, which is more than twice as fast as the nation as a whole.

Valencia said her office is projecting Texas’ population to be right under 30 million, around 29.6 million or 29.7 million, by 2020.

Valencia said the Texas Demographic Center looks at a variety of migration patterns, fertility patterns and mortality patterns. “We have good confidence when we share this projected value of 29.7 million for the state of Texas,” she said.

At the state level, migration into Texas is slowing, Valencia said.

The demographer said the Hispanic population is contributing to a lot of the growth that has been taking place in this state. She said the Hispanic population has risen from 9.5 million in 2010 to a projected 11.8 million by 2020. The African-American population is projected to rise from 11.4 million to about 12.1 million, Valencia said, while the fast-growing Asian-American population is likely to rise from half a million to one and a half million.

Over 50 percent of the population growth in Texas is down to Hispanics, Valencia said, while 16 percent of it is down to Non-Hispanic Whites, 14.8 percent to African-Americans and 12.7 percent to Asians.

Looking at the Rio Grande Valley, Valencia said Willacy County’s population is likely to stay about the same in 2020 as it was in 2010, Hidalgo, we are projecting that that proportion will continue into 2020.

She said Hidalgo County is projected to grow by over 95,000, when comparing 2010 to 2020, while Cameron County is projected to add and additional 21,000 residents and Starr County about 3,700.

“The counties in the Rio Grande Valley are growing at a similar rate to the rest of the state, about 14 percent,” Valencia said.

Valencia noted that the Non-Hispanic Anglo population is shrinking in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

The House Committee on Redistricting’s hearing was held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.