EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of why people should fill out census forms, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said.

“If we don’t get accurate population counts, we’re not going to get the help we need,” Escobar said. “The resources that we rely on — Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP — all of that is attributable to our population.”

Funding has been a perennial issue in border and immigrant communities that don’t always get the resources they deserve because they did not all get counted, she and other speakers said at a census tele town hall organized on Thursday by The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

The speakers said El Paso County’s census participation stands at over 50 percent, but warned that working-class and immigrant family enclaves are lagging. The census website shows nearby communities like San Elizario with a response rate of less than 33 percent so far.

El Paso activist Fernando Garcia says there’s fear and mistrust in those enclaves. “They are extremely afraid because of the actions of (the Trump) administration. The attacks on immigrants have been unprecedented and people fear trusting the Census,” said Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

He said his organization is urging migrants in San Elizario, Montana Vista, Canutillo, Vinton and others to lose the fear and fill out the forms. They are showing migrant families how to fill out the forms online or over the telephone and reassuring them they won’t be asked immigration status and that their responses won’t be shared with immigration enforcement agencies.

A child sets off fireworks in Montana Vista, an unincorporated area of El Paso County, Texas. (KTSM file photo)

“Many families in these communities were not counted (in the past) and therefore these communities, these colonias, were lagging in terms of access to services and infrastructure or even running water. They weren’t counted and they simply did not exist” in the eyes of the federal or state governments, he said.

The group is using Spanish-speaking volunteers where there’s a need to overcome a language barrier. Still, the effort has been “a challenge” amid the mistrust, Garcia said.

These communities haven’t just lost money in the previous census undercounts, but also political representation, the speakers said.

“I’ve been working hard in Congress to make sure we get money for unemployment, hospitals, food insecurity,” Escobar said. “But we turn that money over to the states. They make decisions at the state level and many of those decisions are dependent on population counts.”

While political experts are saying Texas stands to gain as many as four new seats in Congress after the 2020 census, Escobar fears an undercount may cost El Paso one of its two representatives in Washington, D.C.

She urged border residents not only to complete the census but also encourage their neighbors to do so as well.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the census deadline has been extended through Oct. 31, the speakers said.

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