EDITORIAL: Hidalgo, Cameron counties bold to join census lawsuit

We applaud the courage and determination that the counties of Hidalgo and Cameron have shown by joining a multi-state and cities federal lawsuit against the Commerce Department to block a citizenship question from being asked in the 2020 census.

Hidalgo, Cameron and El Paso counties on Tuesday became the first in Texas to join the lawsuit, which was filed in New York, Rolando Rios, a San Antonio lawyer hired by Hidalgo and Cameron counties, told The Monitor’s Editorial Board Tuesday after Hidalgo County Commissioners met privately with him in Edinburg.

In doing so, these border counties are among five counties nationwide to be a part of the lawsuit, which includes 18 states, the District of Columbia, nine cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“We need a voice for Texas, so we are the voice for Texas because our leadership is not providing an important voice,” Rios told us.

Although some Texas counties and cities, like McAllen, have passed resolutions opposing a citizenship question on the 2020 census, these three border counties are the first in Texas to actually spend the funds to hire legal counsel to “get to be at the table. We get to present our evidence,” Rios told us.

That takes guts and we are proud that our elected officials in the Rio Grande Valley recognize how economically devestating a census undercount could be to our region.

The idea that residents likely will not respond to our constitutionally-mandated census if they are asked their citizenship status, could jeopardize the number of congressional seats for our state, as well as federal funding, especially for Medicaid, to our region. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study found $3.73 million in Medicaid funds were lost to 31 states due to an undercount in 2000.

For every person not counted in 2020, Hidalgo and Cameron counties could lose $2,500 to $3,000, per year — or $30,000 per person per decade, said Rios, who also represented both counties in a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce contending an undercount in 2000.

This time, he says “the Trump administration is weaponizing the Census Bureau to undercount and intimidate the people.”

Rios says studies show 46 percent of Hispanics polled have “low confidence” that the federal government will keep private immigration information derived from the next census.

Census officials have held workshops with Hidalgo County officials to strategize best methods for getting an accurate count here. The federal agency even is opening an office in Hidalgo County, which it did not do for the last count.

But hiring more employees, conducting bilingual outreach and knocking on doors won’t help if residents are scared to respond. That’s why we condone the use of taxpayer funds to join this national lawsuit to stop federal officials from asking this question that has no business on the 2020 Census.

As Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia has said: “Our government divides up all the entitlement funds based on population and under our Constitution, everyone who is residing in this country needs to be counted. It doesn’t say only citizens.”