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EDINBURG, RGV – Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would likely lead to the loss of an additional state representative seat in the Rio Grande Valley, says an attorney hired by Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

Rolando Rios said research undertaken for a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration found that between ten and 14 percent of Rio Grande Valley residents would not fill out their census form if such a question were added. 

Such a high undercount, Rios said, would lead to less political representation in Washington, D.C., and Austin and less federal funds coming to the region.

Rolando Rios

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled against the Trump’s administration’s addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Judge Jesse M. Furman called Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the question “arbitrary and capricious,” and blasted the Commerce Secretary for “egregious” violations of the Administrative Procedure Act.

“This court ruling is devastating news to the Trump Administration. It is 277 pages and I think it is solid and I think it will be upheld on appeal,” Rios told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

“It was so obvious, the Trump Administration did not give a second thought to the addition of the citizenship question and the implications. Normally, it takes years of testing a question before you put it on the census form. These people did not do any of that. So, I was not surprised by the judge’s ruling. I thought we were going to win.”

Hidalgo and Cameron counties hired Rios, a veteran attorney who specializes in census and redistricting issues, to fight U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Smith’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

Professor Matthew A. Barreto

“Our counties were very significant in providing funds to hire an expert out of UCLA. Professor Matthew Barreto was a very good expert. He conducted a survey across the country and also in specific areas like Hidalgo and Cameron,” Rios said.

“People were asked, if the citizenship question is put on the census form would you fill it out? A significant number said, probably not. They were able to measure the response rate to a question about no citizenship and a question about yes to a citizenship question. It was done very professionally in Spanish. They saw a ten to 15 percent drop in people that would fill out the census form.”

Asked what the research showed for the Rio Grande Valley, Rios said: “It would lead to an undercount of about ten and 14 percent in the Valley. That would mean a loss in federal money and think about the loss in representation. It could make the difference between whether you have an additional representative in the state legislature. Maybe Texas would not get three new congressional seats. Instead we could get two. Plus the loss of millions of dollars and the loss of political power.”

Rios pointed out that in the 2010 Census, Texas gained four congressional seats while  California and New York lost one each. “Texas should be picking up three new seats after 2020 but if they put in the citizenship question we could lose one of these,” Rios predicted. 

“We are talking about millions of people that might not get counted. A form not having a citizenship question would be about a one or two percent undercount. Put the citizenship question on and it would be a ten to 15 percent undercount.”

Rios said he would be visiting the Valley next week to brief Hidalgo and Cameron county leaders about Judge Furman’s ruling.

“It is a big victory and the public has to be aware that they have to fill out the census. As of right now, the state of the law is, there will not be a citizenship question. I want to brief the county commissioners. We need to get maximum coverage on this.”

Judge Furman represents the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. His ruling against the citizenship question is likely to be appealed by the Trump administration.

The new Hidalgo County judge, Richard Cortez, has made the 2020 Census a top priority. During his election campaign he said he would support the retention of Complete Count Committees because the more people are counted, the more political representation and federal funding Hidalgo will accrue.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

Cortez pointed out that if Hidalgo County were undercounted by just 10,000 residents, the county would stand to lose $160 million in federal dollars over ten years.

“The County of Hidalgo, Texas received positive news today when U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled against plans to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census Questionnaire,” Cortez said, in a statement issued Tuesday.

“We know that adding a citizenship question would be detrimental to Hidalgo County and many areas of the United States, which is why we, in addition to Cameron and other counties, joined in the lawsuit.”

Cortez said the Census mandate is to count everyone that resides in the U.S. “There have been challenges in the past and there will be challenges in the future but I and Commissioners Court will continue to work diligently to make sure Hidalgo County is accurately counted and is provided the resources and tools we are due.”

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen also applauded Judge Furman’s ruling. 

“I am very happy to hear that the judiciary has reaffirmed what we always knew was true, namely that our Constitution requires a count of all people in a Census,” Gonzalez said. “That is the sole objective of this count and impacts resources spent in the 15th District of Texas, and across the country. Regardless of where you stand on the immigration debate, I do not understand why anyone would want to cheat themselves out of rightfully due resources. We do not ask for handouts, but we do demand our region’s fair share. Every person counts in the United States, and this ruling affirms that.”

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin serves as policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus in the nation and a Texas plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Trump admininistration. Rodriguez, who was born and raised in McAllen, said:

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

“The first priority in every census must be producing an accurate count of the people living here in the United States. The very functioning of our republic depends on it, as the count is used to apportion political power and funding for crucial public services.

“Yet from the beginning, the Trump administration has been committed to adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Experts warn that including such a sensitive question will result in an undercount and ultimately harm all Americans, regardless of their immigration status.

“This ruling sends a strong message to the Trump administration that its anti-immigrant policies and partisan power politics are not only bad for the American people, they are also unlawful.”

Congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Castro said of Judge Furman’s ruling:

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro

“The Trump Administration is attempting to add a new citizenship question to the 2020 census to politically intimidate the immigrant community, and today’s court ruling against adding this question is a step towards justice and the rule of law for all Americans.

“A citizenship question would jeopardize federal funding and congressional seats for states like Texas, and would result in an undercount of immigrant and minority communities—an outcome that is at odds with the constitutional purpose of the census. 

“While today’s ruling is a victory, we cannot rely solely on the courts to swat down this xenophobic and politically nefarious question. Congress must come together, across party lines, to ensure we protect the census from politicization and ensure every person is counted justly and accurately.”

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