Immigrants cautious of food assistance in Trump era, experts say

Undocumented immigrants have become cautious of seeking food aid in the Trump era because of fears they could be targeted for deportation, said a panel of food security experts last week in San Francisco.

Leaders in the anti-hunger movement in California gathered in San Francisco on Nov. 9 for a discussion about fighting hunger in a FERN Talks and Eats event, co-hosted by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture.

Millions of people could lose their federal food stamp benefits if the $53-billion program is hit with the 25-percent cut that the Trump administration is seeking. But in California, where more than 10 percent receive some form of food assistance, the threat from the administration is already affecting immigrants.

“Immediately following the election, we had people calling us not to ask for help signing up with CalFresh (California’s food assistance program) or SNAP,” but for help canceling their benefits, said Elizabeth Gomez, associate director of client services at the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which serves 1.6 million people annually, or one of five residents in Alameda County. The bank fielded at least 40 such calls in the first few weeks after Trump was elected, something Gomez said had never happened before.

Some people are afraid that signing up for benefits will put them in a national database and they will be tracked down by immigration services if they or someone in their family are undocumented. Many also fear that by taking food assistance they would count as a “public charge,” and thus be disqualified from ever earning citizenship, which Gomez said is one of the many myths that shadow food assistance. She made clear that applicants do not have to provide proof of citizenship, or even their names, to participate in SNAP, and doing so doesn’t bar them from becoming a citizen later on.

It’s a sad irony that the double threat of deportation and hunger often comes down hardest on farmworkers, 50-70 percent of whom are undocumented, said Alexis Guild, senior health policy analyst at Farmworker Justice.

Gomez said that more needs to be done to educate the poor about how they can get help and what their rights are. Voters, she insisted, also need to protect programs like SNAP, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), from cuts.

You can read more about the event here at FERN.