RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – Starr County stands ready to join Hidalgo and Cameron counties in filing a lawsuit against the federal government over the new population totals announced Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera believes there has been a massive undercount. The new figures from the Census Bureau put his county’s population at 60,968. Vera believes the true figure is closer to 100,000. He told the Rio Grande Guardian on Thursday evening that he was hoping the figure would come in at close to 70,000.
“We kind of suspected this massive undercount would happen to us because it happened ten years ago,” Vera said.
“I know that Carlos Cascos in Cameron County and Ramon Garcia in Hidalgo County are talking about filing a lawsuit and if they do we will probably join because every person that is not counted means we lose thousands of dollars in federal and state grants.”
Vera made his comments in an exclusive interview with the Guardian immediately following his State of the County address at South Texas College’s campus in Rio Grande City on Thursday evening.
For a fast growing county like Starr County, a big undercount is a tremendous blow, Vera said. “For a county of our size, if they leave out 10,000 to 20,000 people… that is a tremendous amount of money we are going to lose out on, for ten years.”
In addition to the apportionment of federal and state grants, the new census numbers are used to decide political representation. The greater the undercount, the less representation a community receives in Austin and Washington, D.C.
Vera said he was “very unhappy” with the way the Census Bureau counted the residents of Starr County last spring. As with Hidalgo and Cameron counties, the Bureau decided against mailing out census forms to colonia residents and instead sent field workers door to door.
“This is what happens when you have bureaucrats in Washington making decisions for us down here,” Vera said. “Our people are not going to open the door for someone that comes knocking on the door. Our people are concerned about immigration, they are concerned about instability. They are not going to open the door.”
Asked if he felt the Census Bureau’s actions were deliberate racial discrimination, Vera said: “I do not want to believe it was done intentionally, but it was certainly wrong. The forms should have been mailed and then our people could have gone out there and said, ‘make sure you answer those census forms.’ Whoever made that decision, it was certainly a bad, bad, decision for the border area.”
Vera said Starr County officials were only told that thousands of residents would not be receiving census forms late in the process.
“How we found out, people were telling us, ‘we have not received, we have not received.’ It was only towards the end of the census that we found out they were not going to mail them, they were going to send people to knock on doors. We said, heck, that ain’t going to work. And it did not,” Vera said.
Vera said he is convinced there are close to 100,000 people in Starr County because of the number of water meters and the number of students in school. “You can pretty much tell how many people are out there,” he said. He also said he wished the U.S. Constitution did not require a physical count of the people. “They cannot take ratios and that hurts us a lot,” he said.
Rose Benavidez, president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation, said a massive undercount hurts the community because it reduces the amount of federal and state dollars that comes in.
Benavidez said she recalls the phrase Census Bureau chiefs used to describe the Update/Enumerate counting procedure. “They called it their Cadillac version. When you are told you are getting a Cadillac and you end up with a Beetle it does not quite meet the expectations. We are going to suffer because our numbers are much lower than they could have been if we had really been given the Cadillac. A Cadillac would have been to mail out the forms, followed up by enumerators,” Benavidez said.
Benavidez confirmed what Vera had said about being told late in the day that census forms would not be sent to colonia residents.
“We have a massive amount of colonias and we did our best to do as much outreach as possible but by the time the Census Bureau told us what they were doing, it was almost impossible for our residents to call into the 800 numbers to request written forms. We did not have the manpower to cope,” she said.
Benavidez said she believes the true population in Starr County to be 80,000 to 90,000. She said she expected the count to come in at 65,000 to 70,000.
“We continue to see growth. We have grown 200 percent since 1970. Because of the university and the college being here we are seeing more families staying building their families here,” Benavidez said.