McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez speaks as community leaders come together to promote Somos Humanos Todo Contamos, a raffle and telethon to motivate residents to complete the 2020 Census at the McAllen Performing Arts Center on Wednesday. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Hidalgo County and local municipalities are making a last-ditch effort to get residents to complete the 2020 Census.

During a news conference Wednesday morning at the McAllen Performing Arts Center, representatives from the county, McAllen, Pharr, Mission and Edinburg addressed local media and expressed urgency as the Sep. 30 census deadline looms nearer.

“We’re promoting the Somos Humanos Todos Contamos campaign,” McAllen Commissioner Tania Ramirez said. “It’s a campaign that’s been brought by Here Everybody Loves People (HELP) and Hispanic Star.”

The organizers of the campaign announced a telethon to help people complete the census, as well as incentives in the form of a raffle.

Prizes in the raffle include a four-night stay at any Holiday Inn resort, HD televisions, Zoom meet and greets with celebrities, autographed guitars and accordions, seven-day cruise vacations, and a grand prize of $10,000.

The commissioner added that residents of all four counties who have already completed the census are also eligible to enter the raffle, but she implored them to call family and friends and have them complete the census.

“We’re going to be doing (the telethon) on September 24,” Rodriguez said. “Starting (Thursday), people can start calling in. They can go to the website, rgv2020.com, we’ll have the numbers that are available to call the centers. We’re going to have a total of eight centers throughout the county. They’re open for every single person throughout the RGV, it’s not just for Hidalgo County.”

Representatives from the county and local municipalities stressed the dire need for residents to complete their census forms.

Among those who spoke during the news conference on Wednesday was Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, who said that only 54.8% of his constituents have completed the census.

“I’m calling on Mission residents to help us by completing the census today,” O’Caña said. “Don’t wait another day.”

The mayor added that if Mission residents need help to complete the census, call (956) 580-8726.

Mission Mayor Armando O’Cana uses his cellphone during an event to motivate residents to complete the 2020 Census Wednesday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“Your help will benefit Mission with resources for many projects and services,” he said. “There are millions of dollars at stake that could be allocated to our area.”

McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez compared the collective effort by the county and local cities to the creation of the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, highlighting the influence the region’s cities can yield collectively if operating together.

“It happened because the leaders of the Rio Grande Valley realized that together we make such a great impact not only here in the region and in the state, but in the entire United States,” Rodriguez said. “The Rio Grande Valley MPO is a perfect example of why we have to do this the way we’re doing it — united together.”

From infrastructure to policy, the city manager also reminded that completing the census and gaining an accurate count would assist the Valley in acquiring state and federal resources and warrant attention from throughout the nation.

“For many, many years, me included, people have said, ‘The state and this country forgets about the Rio Grande Valley,’” Rodriguez said. “Well guess what, it’s our own fault. This is the way to correct that — to ensure that the funds that should be coming to an area of over a million people is not only represented the way it should be, but that we receive those transportation dollars in the Rio Grande Valley.

“That’s just one (aspect). We’re talking about healthcare dollars, drainage dollars, education, everything that has to do with population impacts us right now. This is going to be our last opportunity to ensure that we make that happen.”

County spokesman Carlos Sanchez, who recently recovered from COVID-19, said that there are many misconceptions with regard to what exactly the census is, which attributes to the low completion percentages throughout the Valley.

“Perhaps the biggest misconception is that once the federal government has our information it can be used against us, particularly with immigration,” Sanchez said. “That’s furthest from the truth. There are very special laws in place that protect our identities. The Census Bureau is not allowed to release information, and it is the intent here at the county and city level to try to bring home as many people as we can to get them to sign up for the census.”