Were Latinos in Texas Undercounted in the Latest Census?

Days after the Census Bureau released population numbers for Texas showing explosive growth driven by Latinos and other minorities, controversy—perhaps inevitably—is stirring in the state.

Latinos in Texas were undercounted and stand to lose out on millions of dollars in federal aid, thanks to faulty Census-taking measures, community organizers in the Rio Grande Valley say. But according to a lawsuit filed against the state by three Tea Party activists, Latinos in Texas were overcounted—and stand to gain political clout illegitimately, thanks to the Census counting illegal immigrants.

In the Valley, a heavily Latino three-county pocket in the southernmost tip of Texas —and the poorest area in the state—as many as 250,000 people were not counted in Hidalgo county alone, the biggest of the three counties (which include Starr and Cameron), says Armando Garza of Rio Grande Equal Voice Network. According to the latest Census report, Hidalgo has about 775,000. Garza, who has worked in the area for more than two decades, estimates the true population to be around 1 million.

At issue is the Census Bureau’s strategy of going door-to-door seeking participation, instead of mailing a form, Garza says. The problem, he adds: Much of the area is made up of colonias, isolated rural farming areas where crime and drug activity has made residents keep to themselves and be wary of strangers. Garza said his group spoke to Census officials about mailing the forms, to no avail.

“The census has historically undercounted the Rio Grande Valley,” says Garza, adding that it is in dire need of basic infrastructure—paved roads, electricity, sewer, water, drainage and good housing stock. “You are talking about people who desperately need the federal dollars.”

He said officials in Hidalgo are considering a lawsuit. Judge Ramon Garcia, who presides over Hidalgo County, was not available for comment. Calls to the Census Bureau were not returned.

While Garza bemoans an undercount in the Valley, three activists, at least one of whom has Tea Party ties, have filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas in federal court. They are hoping to prevent Texas from using Census figures that show almost a 21 percent population increase—thanks mostly to Latinos—from being used in upcoming redistricting efforts.

The plaintiffs, Kaaren Teuber, Ricky Grunden and Jim K. Burg, say that the four new Congressional districts Texas has earned because of the population boom were unfairly given to areas where illegal immigrants were counted, skewing power in their favor. Teuber and Grunden did not return messages left on their Facebook accounts.

Alex Gonzalez, a spokesman for Somos Republicans, a conservative Latino non-profit with a branch in Texas, calls the lawsuit “frivolous,” not the least because the Census Bureau is commanded by the constitution to count everyone, not just citizens. “They are trying to impede the new districts from becoming Hispanic,” Gonzalez says. “They are trying to delegitimize the law.”