RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – Starr County Judge Eloy Vera says just as undocumented immigrants are less likely to report a crime once Senate Bill 4 becomes law, they are also less likely to talk to Census Bureau enumerators.

Vera says he is extremely concerned about this because the larger the undercount, the fewer federal and state dollars his county will receive. The next Census count is in 2020.

“Just as they may not report crime, our immigrant community may not talk to the Census Bureau enumerators. It is a severe concern. It has been proven and known that undocumented immigrants will not answer doors because they think it is immigration and now with Senate Bill 4 it is going to make that even worse,” Vera said.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera

Senate Bill 4 is being dubbed the “Show Me Your Papers” legislation. It allows local law enforcement such as DPS troopers to ask about a resident’s legal status during, for example, a traffic stop. Starr County has a lot of DPS troopers. SB 4 was recently signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott and comes into effect on Sept. 1.

Critics say the legislation will mean immigrant communities will be more reticent about reporting crime, for fear they will be asked their legal status. Many police chiefs and county sheriffs testified against the bill for this reason, saying it would make their community policing efforts much harder. Latino civil rights groups such as MALDEF have said they will fight the legislation in court.

Vera spoke about his concerns following a conversation with Rio Grande Guardian publisher Mark Hanna live on Facebook. He noted that in the 2010 Census count, Starr County was badly undercounted.

In 2010, the Census Bureau put Starr County’s population at 60,968. Vera believes the true figure was closer to 100,000.

“After what happened in our last Census count, I just hate to believe what could happen thanks to Senate Bill 4,” Vera said. “We took a tremendous hit last Census. There wasn’t much we could do afterwards. Every citizen that doesn’t get counted, it’s money that the county doesn’t get.”

Vera said he would be reaching out to Congressman Henry Cuellar and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn to see what they could do to help. In the 2010 Census, Congressmen such as Cuellar and Rubén Hinojosa were angry the Census Bureau did not send census forms in the mail to colonia residents. Instead, enumerators went door to door. Vera said it was obvious what would happen – residents would not answer the door.

“I want to see what can we do to make sure the Census Bureau comes up with a different methodology of counting people, not just going door to door. They have to use local people for counting. They can have their people who come in from wherever but they must be accompanied by local people so we get people out there to open their doors,” Vera said. “2020 is just around the corner. Now is the time to prepare.”

During a livestream on Facebook on Wednesday, Vera told the Rio Grande Guardian he was very concerned about the impact of Senate Bill 4.

“More disturbing to me is, part of my judicial duties is that I hear family court, family violence, domestic violence, that sort of thing,” Vera said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the women that come to our centers for help are illegal aliens, they are not here legally. Their husbands or their partners beat up on them and that is the threat that they use. If you tell anyone, I will call immigration.

“Well, they finally built up enough courage to where they come and look for help and we try to help. Now, if they go and ask for help, and those ladies have to ask them, are you a legal citizen and they say no, they are going to be deported.

“That gives these people that beat up on them the green light to do whatever the hell they want. That is very disturbing because the people that need help from law enforcement or judicial, are not going to be asking for it because they are afraid. This is very disturbing.”