SAN BENITO, TEXAS – While the U.S. Census Bureau lists the population of San Benito, Texas, at around 24,500, local leaders believe the real figure is closer to 40,000.
They believe the Census Bureau undercounted the city’s residents by a large margin in 2010 and are determined this does not happen again in 2020.
“The census is very important to us. We have decided to be very proactive. We believe we were undercounted and we do not want that to happen again,” said San Benito City Manager Manuel De La Rosa.
“So, we have partnered with the school district, with the housing authority, with LUPE, to ensure everybody knows about the census. We are holding block parties, community groups are meeting regularly, we are meeting with the county and with various stakeholders. We are getting the word out.”
De La Rosa gave his comments during an exclusive livestream interview with the Rio Grande Guardian last week. The attached podcast is based upon that livestream.
San Benito was just about the only city in the Rio Grande Valley that did not show a significant increase in population after the 2010 census was taken. According to the Census Bureau, its population in 2000 was 24,055. The same agency said its population in 2010 was 24,250, an increase over the decade of just 0.81 percent.
This “standing still” statistic contrasts sharply with neighboring communities. Between 2000 and 2010, Brownsville’s population grew 22.45 percent, according to the Census Bureau. The same agency reported that Harlingen’s population grew 6.69 percent over the same period. Los Fresnos’ population grew 22.8 percent between 2000 and 2010 and La Feria’s grew by 6.47 percent over the same period.
De La Rosa joined the San Benito city administration four years ago. He said he was told early on how badly the population was counted in 2010 and, working with the city commission, is determined it will not happen again.
“I was told early on, we have an undercounted population. We have about 8,000 water and sewer accounts. That is an awful lot of people. We look at the number of kids enrolled in the local school district. The numbers do not mesh,” De La Rosa said.
“The Census Bureau says our population is about 24,500. We think it is closer to 40,000. Our elected officials know their citizenry. We know there is a large undercount. What it is, exactly, has yet to be determined.”
Asked for examples of local groups working to ensure a full and accurate count on Census Day, April 1, De La Rosa said: “The housing authority is going to reach to to all of their tenants. We have the department directors from planning, police, public relations, library staff, all working on this. We have videos created in house. We want to reach out to anybody and everybody who will listen to us.”
De La Rosa said San Benito has created a Complete Count Committee. On the day the Rio Grande Guardian interviewed De La Rosa, that committee was meeting at the public library.
“The motto for our campaign is San Benito Counts. We are taking a very proactive position on this. We want everybody to understand that being counted is important. It is important because of the federal dollars we are going to get. It is going to help San Benito and it is going to help Cameron County as a whole, with funding for roadways and infrastructure, etcetera.”
De La Rosa said there may some confusion in the community about what census data is used for. He said he wanted to stress that it will not be used for immigration purposes.
“There is some confusion that the census is used for immigration policy. It is not. We want to get that message out in English and Spanish,” De La Rosa said. “We want to get the word out on Facebook and Twitter. It is important, we are not looking at immigration, this is not part of immigration policy. It is all about much needed federal funding for us.”
De La Rosa assed: “We are asking the community to help us get funding to improve the quality of life our our residents. We want everybody counted. At the end of the day, this is our community.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows San Benito’s Complete Count Committee meeting in the San Benito Public Library on Tuesday, February 4, 2020.