COMMENTARY: Census: Our moral obligation

Today marks a new era in the evolution of our country’s process of governance. Although the census has been part of the American fabric since it was included in the U.S. Constitution, the process of enumeration takes a technological leap forward when the once-a-decade form goes online.

I encourage every household in Hidalgo County to take advantage of this advancement and fill out the online census form as soon as possible. Beginning today, be on the lookout for a letter from the U.S. Census Bureau inviting you to complete the form online or by phone. Don’t despair if you don’t receive your letter right away; the Census Bureau is working with the U.S. Postal Service to stagger delivery and avoid overwhelming its online access.

For those without internet access or who prefer the paper method, you have the traditional option to mail in your form. Whatever method you choose, I urge you to respond.

There are certainly practical reasons to respond. The basis for most federal funding formulas is population. Your tax dollars can be returned to your community to fund infrastructure and other critical services such as education and healthcare.

There are political reasons to respond. Following each decade’s census count, the process of apportionment begins in which we divide the number of elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives and other, more local political districts across the country. Texas has enjoyed a growth in the size of its congressional delegation in decades past and as many as three new seats may come after this year’s census. I know what you’re thinking: why would we want more members of Congress? Because having a member of Congress focused on geographic regions like Hidalgo County means more federal benefits.

For me, however, the need to fill out the U.S. Census extends beyond the practical and political. I believe strongly that we have a moral obligation to fill out this year’s Census.

Hidalgo County specifically and the Rio Grande Valley more generally has a long history of being underserved by the state and federal government. Initially, it was a geographic isolation that allowed Austin and Washington, D.C. to fail to see our region’s potential. Then it felt like more of a political isolation. We never understood why the border region often seems like an afterthought among policymakers; we believe we are an asset to the state. Recent history has proven more beneficial to us among policymakers, but I believe a larger population count will result in even more benefit.

We believe that more strongly now as we launch this year’s Census because we know that we represent the future of Texas — and Texas represents the future of our country. The Hispanic population will continue to grow at a faster pace than most other demographics. The critical question is, how will this population adapt to the 21st century? The answer depends on how much policymakers are willing to invest in us.

We know that investing in human capital always provides positive results. Will we be better or more poorly educated? Will we be healthier or less healthy? Will we be more or less engaged citizens?

Hidalgo County should be well educated, healthy and engaged as citizens. That begins with the Census. We must demonstrate through our numbers the moral obligation for policymakers who, we hope, are truly interested in knowing the size of our population — whether legally here or not. So I urge everyone to fill out the Census and remember: United We Count. Unidos Contamos.

Richard F. Cortez is Hidalgo County judge.