Cities in Yuma County are falling behind in their 2020 Census response rates and risking a significant loss in funds for healthcare, schools, services and roads.
But in San Luis, a white pickup truck with a is driving through the city with a loudspeaker, encouraging residents to fill out the questionnaire.
Alexis Gomez usually works at San Luis City Hall as a Code Enforcement Officer, but for the last six months he’s worked extra hours in the evenings to drive the Census truck.
About 40 percent of the population of San Luis has responded to the Census, leaving the city 20 percentage points behind the state response rate and 25 behind the national rate.
Tadeo De La Hoya, San Luis City Manager and a member of the Yuma County Census Committee says an undercount here will cost the city federal money.
“If we are undercounted, we won’t have the right representation in Congress and in the State,” De La Hoya says.
“Needless to say all the federal funding, for every person that is uncounted we lose 4,400 dollars.”
Latinos here make up 97 percent of the population. Community organizations, businesses, and even local governments in Mexico use campaign trucks and contests to advertise and communicate with people, so the use of raffles and loudspeakers is familiar to the mix of Mexican and Mexican-American people who live here.
Francisco Lara-Valencia, an Associate Professor at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University says predominantly Latino communities like San Luis have historically low Census response rates.
“What the city of San Luis is doing is very culturally appropriate for the population,” Lara-Valencia says.
He says research shows this type of targeted outreach builds trust within the community.
“A few years ago there was this study in Phoenix and Houston that tried to see if telenovelas were a good way to persuade people of the importance of the Census and to increase the level of trust of people in the government," says Lara-Valencia.
"The result of the study showed that there were some positive gains in terms of participation and in terms of trust."
But he says it is hard to know how effective these methods are. In the past year, the 2020 Census has become a political battleground over issues that involve the Latino community.
Already dismayed by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies, some Latinos are losing trust in government, and Census Truck driver Alexis Gomez says people he has talked to are worried.
“That’s the thing here in San Luis, because it’s a border town, we get a lot of people who don’t want to participate in the Census because they think it will affect their citizenship status, which is not the case, but it is hard to get that message across,” Gomez says.
Despite some grants the city has received, De La Hoya says San Luis still had to pull from its emergency funds to make the 2020 Census outreach possible.
Census truck driver, Alexis Gomez says the truck seems to be having an impact.
“The first time I came around, we actually got calls from people saying, ‘Hey how can I complete my Census? How can I participate in the sweepstakes?’” Gomez says.
The numbers have improved some since the City began its outreach, but they are a long way away from the 54 percent response rate they reached in 2010.
The City says the truck is just one of the methods they will use to promote the Census until the September 30 deadline.