Surveys Issued Out to Valley Residents to Prepare for 2020 C

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SAN JUAN – Even though the official census is set for 2020, if you've received a census survey in the mail, listen up.

The U.S. Census Bureau sends out about 290,000 American Community Surveys at the start of every month. If you've received it, you're encouraged to return it as soon as possible.

The data collected helps determine how $675 billion are spent federally and in-state. The survey also helps prepare for the census in 2020.

People in the Rio Grande Valley are already working with the Census Bureau. There's a concern many won't participate.

Texas historically doesn't have the highest participation rate with the agency. Among communities with high immigrant populations, there's an expectation that trust will be an issue.

When census employees visited Maria Romero's neighborhood in 2010, her neighbors hesitated to open their doors.

"They didn't want to give their information since they didn't live there and they were not known in that area,” she said.

Romero was asked to walk with them. Doors began to open. She knows how her community can benefit from participating in the survey.

"It's very important to register with the Census since it helps our economy. It brings money for education, for health, and infrastructure," she explained.  

La Union Del Pueblo Entero coordinator Martha Sanchez said there's a real monetary loss when the community refuses to fill out the census.

"When we fail to count the people we lose money for each person. I want to say about $2,000 for each person that we don't count, and that's per year,” she said.

Romero said she’s aware of the reason why the government needs to establish trust.

"It's going to be a big challenge for the community to begin trusting enough to register, because of the political climate right now, that they feel Hispanic and immigrant families are being attacked,” she said.

Tom Edwards with the Census Bureau reassures data is confidential.

"We are prohibited from sharing our data, household data from individuals with the immigration service. That's not something we do," He told CHANNEL 5 NEWS.

Employees could face stiff penalties for sharing information, too.

"We Census Bureau employees, we are sworn for life to keep the data we collect confidential. We are subject to five years in jail and fines of up to $250,000," Edwards said.

Non-profits and advocates like LUPE have formed a commission in Hidalgo County. They meet with a census representative to intervene to make sure the upcoming 2020 census doesn't jeopardize lives.

"We ask the Census Bureau to show us the questionnaire as much in advance as possible so we can screen it, so we can see it,” Sanchez said. “So we can see that there are no implications that people may read as information asking about the status.”

The Census Bureau knows there's an uphill battle looming.

Romero and Sanchez said they're relying on the commission's help to re-establish trust now, two years before they begin knocking on doors.

Just this week, the Census Bureau announced they will open a new area-census office in Hidalgo County to serve the Rio Grande Valley.

The bureau also announced residents will be able to respond online, over the phone or on paper beginning March 23, 2020.


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