EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez’s office believes that if a full and accurate census count is completed, Hidalgo County’s population will be recorded as 1.2 million.

That is a lot more than the figure the Census Bureau currently has for the county – approximately 865,000.

The chances of 1.2 million people in Hidalgo County being counted looks slim at the moment. The Census Bureau will stop counting on September 30. To date, only 48.7 percent of residents have self-responded. Census Bureau enumerators are due to go door-to-door in the hard-to-county areas soon.

To learn how Hidalgo County’s Census 2020 census outreach work is going, The Rio Grande Guardian conducted a Zoom conversation with Nestor Lopez, economic development analysis for Judge Cortez. Lopez’s portfolio includes census outreach.

“The Census Bureau has the county at approximately 865,000. We believe we are north of a million people. Well north. I would say 1.2 million people,” Lopez told The Rio Grande Guardian.

Lopez said his office has different metrics to measure that.

“We are a government agency. We distribute a lot of services. Based on housing permits and how much our services are used, we do believe we have the evidence to show that we are north of a million people,” Lopez said.

“Unfortunately, we can’t really do much about that unless the people are counted. The census is absolutely everything for this. Being an undercounted area just results in us having to provide services for more people while receiving it for less people. We do believe we are north of one million people but we are receiving the funds for 865,000 people.”

Lopez calculates that between one quarter or one third of Hidalgo County residents live in unincorporated areas. “It speaks to the nature of how difficult we are to count. We are spread out, which makes it very difficult to count us accurately,” he acknowledged.

One of the problems Hidalgo County has encountered is a fear that census information will be shared with the Border Patrol. The county has a high number of mixed status families, in other words, some family members are legal and some are undocumented.

Lopez noted that the White House wanted to include a citizenship question but that was struck down by the Supreme Court. In recent weeks President Trump wrote a memo instructing the Census Bureau not to count undocumented immigrants. That is being challenged in court.

“The messaging side of this has been very problematic, especially from the current administration, beginning with the citizenship question. That ultimately got ruled out by the Supreme Court,” Lopez said.

“The detrimental effect of that is still being felt today. The Supreme Court ruled this was not to be on the census months ago yet even today we still get questions, ‘are we going to be asked if we are a citizen?’ And, ‘do I fill it out if I am not a citizen?’ The effects of it are present, they have lingered with us a long time.”

As for the Trump memo, Lopez said: “It is already being challenged through the courts but ultimately the message of it is just another hurdle that we are really trying to overcome.”

In such situations, confusion reigns.

“Unfortunately, confusion is often enough to create apathy and inaction. That is really what we have seen,” Lopez said.

“We have seen some people push back and verbatim tell us, ‘we do not want to participate because we do not trust the information will be kept confidential.’ And, ‘we do not trust that something won’t change in the future and then they will have our addresses.’”

Lopez added: “It is the messaging that is coming out from the White House. Even though the court has ruled a certain way, even though the recent memo is being challenged, the messaging itself I very problematic.

“The recent memo is (meant) to exclude certain populations from political representation. The irony here is that a lot of these people are the ones who need to be counted the most to have their voice represented. Unfortunately, the confusion of this is creating silence within our populations.”

Here is the Zoom conversation with Nestor Lopez:

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