Census 2020 ramps up with delivery of 5.1 million questionnaires to rural homes


Effort welcome in rural Far West Texas, where participation rates are lagging; El Paso region to get 26,775 forms

Neighbors take shelter from the West Texas sun Friday afternoon at a park in San Elizario, Texas. (Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Rural Far West Texas communities are falling behind in responding to the 2020 Census.

Hudspeth, Culberson and Jeff Davis counties are reporting response rates in the teens, while Presidio County has one of the lowest rates in the nation at 7.3%, according to the 2020 Census website.

That’s expected to change starting next week, when census employees begin dropping off questionnaires at homes in rural areas.

“We actually started to go to rural areas on March 15 but four days into it we stopped the whole operation because of COVID-19,” said Jerome Garza, U.S. Census Bureau assistant regional manager.

In that time, the bureau developed new procedures and procured personal protective equipment for workers charged with making sure households that haven’t responded are aware there’s a census going on this year.

“They’ll have masks, they’ll have hand sanitizer when they go out there,” Garza said. “Before, they would knock on the door and hand out the questionnaire. Now they’re not going to knock on the door, they’re just going to leave the questionnaire on the porch.”

The initiative kicks off June 8 with the delivery of 5.1 million questionnaires nationwide and 26,775 in the El Paso area.

Census response rates

  • Texas: 58.4%
  • El Paso County: 58.8%
  • Brewster County: 26.8%
  • Culberson County: 15.2%
  • Jeff Davis County: 14.3%
  • Hudspeth County: 11.6%
  • Presidio County: 7.3%

“This is important because it returns money to our communities, to our schools and provides representation — possibly additional seats in Congress for Texas, if we have an accurate count,” Garza said. “So, guys and gals in rural areas, unlock your fence, watch the dog and allow census employees to drop off the questionnaires so you can participate in this very important process.”

The participation rate in the city of El Paso of 60.6% is beating the Texas average of 55.3% and within a breath of the 60.7% national average. Garza attributes that to widespread support among local leaders and community groups. However, rural suburbs like Clint (40%) and San Elizario (34.1%) are noticeably lower.

Participation rate in the 2020 census in Texas (by county) as of Friday. (graphic courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

Advocates and residents who’ve completed the survey say mistrust and some people’s limited internet skills account for the low rates.

“Most of my neighbors did it (already),” said Alma Avila, a teacher’s aide in San Elizario. “The (elderly) have difficulty with the technology, but they will do it on paper.”

Another fear factor, particularly in border communities, is immigration status, said Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights.

“We are dedicating our time to promote trust in the census process. That has been a challenge because, obviously, these families are mixed status and extremely afraid given the aggression of the Trump administration towards migrants,” Garcia said. “It’s an uphill battle.”

There’s also mistrust of falling prey to regular internet scams like identity theft and financial crimes, says Wendy Valdez, a teacher at San Elizario High School.

“I think the (home visits) will help, but we need to reach out to people and make sure they understand it’s legitimate. We can’t just leave a paper and trust it’s going to be filled out. We need to make sure they know it’s from the official census and why it’s important they fill it out,” she said.

Valdes, a member of the census’ Complete Count Committee, said she and other teachers have promoting census participation among their students.

“We have been asking the students that they fill out the census and that their parents feel comfortable with a census person calling them,” which they will, she said.

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