Fear-Induced Hunger

Food stamps becoming unsafe for undocumented individuals

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Illustration by Owen Thomas
Illustration by Owen Thomas

Thousands of undocumented immigrants and their families are foregoing critical food stamp access out of fear of deportation under the Trump administration. This fear keeps them from meeting basic needs –– the need to eat and stay healthy.

While undocumented immigrants are not and have never been eligible for food stamps, they may apply for their children who are legal residents to receive food stamps and therefore receive them as a household. But out of fear, some families have not been applying.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the national food stamp program, provides food to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and helps people around the country eat and stay healthy. Participants are then able to use the money that would otherwise go to food on other critical expenses like housing and health care.

In San Francisco, 23 percent of residents struggle with hunger. However, 150 households with at least one non-legal citizen withdrew from CalFresh, the California version of SNAP, in March and April alone. This was more than twice the normal amount of withdrawal.

While CalFresh insists information from households with undocumented members will not be shared with immigration officials unless there is an arrest warrant issued for the individual, many decide the benefits are not worth the risk.

Without federal aid, many families rely on food pantries and soup kitchens to feed themselves. Undocumented immigrants should feel safe utilizing programs like SNAP to better provide for themselves and their families.

In the first few weeks of the Trump administration, immigration arrests rose 32.6 percent and in late January, The Washington Post obtained a leaked draft executive order which would target noncitizen immigrants who use social services. Though this order was not signed, it struck fear in the undocumented community.

Green card holders, immigrants with official asylum or those with refugee status are all eligible to participate in SNAP, but legal residents fear participation in the program will hurt their chances of citizenship by being scrutinized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the naturalization process.

No reports have been made of people being deported due to participation in the SNAP program, yet undocumented residents using other government aids have been deported as a result of requesting help. A woman in El Paso, Texas was detained by ICE agents after filing a restraining order against her allegedly abusive partner.

This is not an uncommon story. Fewer undocumented people are reporting on-thejob injuries and sexual assault. These fearinducing politics of the Trump Administration are unacceptable. These individuals fear being traced by ICE so much they are willing to forgo necessary government programs.

As a nation, we must work harder than ever to make sure local, privately funded community service organizations can compensate for the lack of food aid from the government — the Trump administration’s budget blueprint for the fiscal year of 2018 could include significant cuts to the SNAP program.

The fear of deportation is a harsh reality of the current administration, yet, we as community members can make sure those being targeted in our community do not go hungry. Support local private organizations like the H.O.P.E Calling Food Pantry, and the St. Francis Catholic Kitchen, a Santa Cruz soup kitchen.