EDINBURG, RGV – An attorney hired by Cameron and Hidalgo counties to defend the Rio Grande Valley when it comes to an accurate census count and redistricting participated a Facebook LIVE event last week.

In an interview with Rio Grande Guardian anchor Mari Regalado, Rolando Rios spoke with passion about the importance of keeping a citizenship question off the 2020 Census form.

Rios said he would “jump up and down on the table” if he could – because the issue was that important. Rios did not actually jump of the table, perhaps because the live show was coming from the boardroom of attorney Ramon Garcia’s law office. Garcia is a previous Hidalgo county judge.

“I cannot emphasize how important that decision was because it threw a monkey wrench into the whole plan that the Trump administration had in being able to undercount the minority community,” Rios said, referencing the citizenship question.

“They are definitely afraid, the Trumpsters, that the United States will become like California. California, there are no Republicans. California, the speaker of the House is Latino, the attorney general is Latino. California is a very dynamic state. They are definitely afraid that if we count everybody and let them have the right to vote, that the whole United States is going to become like California.”

The Trump administration decided not to pursue the citizenship question after it was rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Many demographers and political analysts argue that if a citizenship question had been added, many Latino families would not have filled in their census form.

Rios said the No. 1 strategy of the Trump administration when it comes to the census is to make sure minorities are undercounted.

“The first way to do that is to make sure that you manipulate the census so that you do not count everybody. That is the first thing they did when they tried to add a citizenship question,” Rios argued.

Rios pointed out that the census is the only function that the federal government does down to the block level, because the constitution requires it to go down to the block level and count every person. This is done every ten years.

“Why is that important? Because that count is the basis for allocating the two most important things that we do in our country, political power and federal funds. For example, Texas gets 33 congressional districts. In 2010 we had 30 and we got three new ones. California has 40. If you undercount the areas that are made up of minorities, they do not get as much political power.”

Rios said it is the same for federal funding.

“Medicare, Medicaid, aid to families with dependent children, all of those funds are allocated on the basis of census data and so if you get undercounted, the estimates are, and these are done by the Census Bureau, every one person that you miss, you lose $2,025 in federal funds over a ten year period. Which turns into hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Preventing a disaster for the RGV

Regalado asked Rios what would have happened if the citizenship question had been added to the 2020 Census.

“It would have been a disaster for us. Like I said, it threw a monkey wrench into the whole plans but if they had succeeded, let me tell you, right now as we are sitting here, they are printing about 350 million pieces of paper, the census forms that will go to every single household. If we had not stopped them, they would have included the citizenship question, which could then be used by them,” Rios said.

“After we won the case, last week, Alabama filed a lawsuit against the Census Bureau asking Congress not to allocate the congressional districts not on the basis of population but doing it on the basis of citizenship. They are not going to give up. They are going to continue trying. It is going to be difficult for them to win that because the data will not be there down to the block level because of us winning that victory.”

Rios said what is interesting about Alabama suing the Census Bureau is the response of the Trump administration. “The Trump administration, even the court mentioned, is kind of like half-heartedly defending the lawsuit. So, New York is going to have to intervene, California is going to have to intervene, to defend the Census Bureau to ensure, basically, that the laws are upheld.”

Rios said the citizenship question should have been struck down because the Census Bureau did not do enough testing to see if it would have caused a significant undercount.

“This is a very important development because when we went to trial, when we challenged the Census Bureau’s decision to put the citizenship question in there, we said, wait a minute, first of all there is a big undercount, you didn’t do it right. Normally you test questions, the Census Bureau has a history of testing a question two or three years before to make sure that the question does not affect the accuracy of the count,” Rios said.

“Here, the Trump administration comes in and in three months says we are going to add the citizenship question. Everybody is going, wait a minute, it has not even been tested. It is going to sacrifice accuracy and accuracy is the most important thing the Census Bureau has. When we went to the litigation the first thing that we asked in the litigation, we asked the Census Bureau and the Justice Department, why did you add the citizenship question. Oh, because we need that information to enforce the federal Voting Rights Act. Give me a break. Here you have the Trump administration trying to enforce the Voting Rights Act. We know it was a joke but that is what they said. With a straight face.

“And so, we went to court, we went to trial and the court found that the Census Bureau had not followed the proper procedures, such as testing the question and that we had presented, through our expert testimony that the census question would sacrifice accuracy, which is the most important thing. Boom. The court ruled with us.”

Hofeller’s analysis

Regalado also asked Rios about an interesting character in the citizenship question saga: Thomas Hofeller. The Republican strategist is credited with coming up with the idea of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. He hatched the plan before the Trump administration took office. His view was that such a question would aid Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites. Hofeller died and his analysis was only later discovered on his computer by his estranged daughter.

“The Trump administration went to the Supreme Court. They figured they would get the Supreme Court to help them and so they argued that they couldn’t go to the 2nd Circuit, we need to skip that because we have to start printing the ballots July 1. And so, they skipped the 2nd Circuit and went to the Supreme Court,” Rios said.

“So we went to the Supreme Court and in the middle of the deliberations, this gentleman, whose name is Hofeller, who was the No. 1 redistricting guru for the Republican Party and when he died his daughter, his estranged daughter, got the computer and found this study that he had done for the Republicans before Trump got elected and he showed that if they use citizen age voting population in the census we can subvert the count for minorities by 20 or 30 percent. They used Texas as an example. Instead of having 35 Latino state representatives, they could reduce it to 30 and pack them all down in South Texas. The study was made public at that time by his daughter. It made it clear that the Trump administration had lied about what the basis was for including the citizenship question. They lied to the federal judge.”

Rios gave credit to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts for being an institutionalist.

“We have three branches of government. If the Supreme Court becomes totally political, then we only have two branches of government. Justice Roberts wants to protect the courts, they are mediators, they can judge. What the court said was the reason they put the citizenship question in there was a pretext. It was a polite way of saying that the Trump administration lied about what they did. You cannot lie to the federal court because then we can’t review things. It was a 5-4 vote and the Trump administration was devastated because their plans for the next ten years… this happens once every ten years, who knows what is going to happen in ten years, they had the opportunity here but they blew it.”