How communities along the border are preparing for the 2020 Census 

HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas (Nexstar) — Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez says his community is investing in technology to identify all possible addresses and homes to reach out to. 

“We started by using technology to help us identify all the rooftops in our county,” he said. “What we did after that is, we found out that there were a lot of addresses that were wrong. There were many addresses missing.” 

This information collected by their technology resulted in about an additional 15,000 new addresses added into their database, Cortez said. But even with this new information, there’s still the challenge of getting people living in his county on board with participating in the census. Cortez says his county has more than 900 colonias, which are unincorporated communities, often low-income and without basic services like running water.  

In 2010, then-U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves toured these areas to ease residents’ concerns over participating in the census.  

“If the president asked me for your Census form, I can say, ‘No, you can’t get it,’ ” Groves told residents, according to a February 2010 CNN article. 

A 2013 article from The New York Times says an attorney hired by Hidalgo County after the 2010 Census estimated it missed 25,000 to 70,000 people that year. 

Cortez says nearly a decade later, those fears are still there, likely due to the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

“The big barrier, of course, is motivating people here that aren’t citizens, who are living among us,” he said. “They mostly live in rural areas and that’s always been a big challenge because they fear being caught.” 

“There are a lot of people who are complacent,” he added. “They don’t see the importance of the census. They’re afraid to give out information about themselves, so what we’re trying to do is educate the people on how easy it is, how important it is and really, how safe it is.” 

He says if Hidalgo County misses 10,000 people in the count, that’s potentially a gap of $200 million in a span of a decade. Hidalgo County is currently applying for grant funding to help educate residents about the importance of getting an accurate count. 

“I think we’re going to try to use television to reach people,” he said. “We’re finding out that most of their people get their information from television, so we’re going to spend money on doing that.” 

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham says there is a system in place to track response rates. 

“We actually have a great system where we monitor and track what the response rates are,” he said. “During the census, we will do that in real-time so we can devote resources to those areas where the self-response rate is falling.” 

People can respond to the census through the mail, phone or the internet.