Many Undocumented Migrants Fear Using Food Stamps Under The Trump Administration


My previous reports and articles have highlighted the level of food insecurity in Canada and the United States, despite hindrances such as conflict and climate change-related disasters or events not making much of an effect on food production or distribution. To reiterate, around 12% of the American and Canadian households are food insecure. Food insecurity is linked to income inequality and has larger consequences for racialized families, individuals, and communities.

Band-aid solutions, like food assistance (SNAP in the United States, previously referred to as food stamps) and food banks, are abundant.

Food assistance materializes as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the United States. The program may face reform by the Trump Administration, but as of now, it provides food stamps to eligible individuals and households to assist in buying food items like bread, fruits, and vegetables. Eligibility for the program depends on household income, amongst other factors. As SNAP is a government funded program, eligibility is also dependent on citizenship status.

In 2015, 91.9% of SNAP beneficiaries were U.S. born citizens. However, 8.7% of beneficiaries were citizen children living with non-citizens, meaning, citizen children with undocumented family members were able to share their benefits.

Within the first eight months of the Trump Administration, arrests and deportations of undocumented migrants rose by 40% to 110,000 individuals, compared to the first eight months of 2016. This is unsurprising due to Trump focusing much of his campaign on immigration reform. The Trump Administration has given less discretion to immigration officials and is calling for a quota system to process deportation cases more quickly, and ultimately, deport more people. On February 5th, 2017, Trump announced that he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was instituted by Obama in 2012 and allowed certain children of undocumented migrants to remain in the United States for two years with a renewable work permit.

Despite the fact the Trump Administration has so far deported fewer migrants than previous administrations, the nature of these arrests targets migrants who have not committed crimes. In fact, under Donald Trump, the share of noncriminals deported within his first eight months as president rose by 117%.

The climate of fear amongst undocumented migrants, their families, and allies is undeniable. According to Javier Hernandez, director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice in Los Angeles, crime reporting by Latin immigrant communities dropped between 2016 and 2017. More specifically, reports of sexual assault fell by 25% and reports of domestic violence fell by 10%.  Hernandez believes these drops are directly related to fears of deportation for victims, perpetrators themselves, or family members, if authorities get involved in the day to day affairs, no matter how dangerous.

These immigrants are undoubtedly retreating from any behaviours that may bring attention to their citizenship status. Similarly, National Public Radio (NPR) has recently reported that this climate of fear, and Trump’s threatening stance on deportation, has prompted many immigrants to cancel food stamps given to them by their citizen children and relatives.

Many NGO workers, including Maria Chavez, an outreach worker at Manna Food Centre, have noticed declines in benefits given to immigrant families with undocumented members. Chavez believes around 20% of 561 families her organization helped apply for stamps have now asked for the benefits to be cancelled. She tells NPR, “They say, ‘I want to close my food stamp.’ And I say, ‘Why you want to close it?’ They say, ‘Well, because I am afraid that something [will] happen to me or they [will] deport me.'”

Although these workers believe it is misinformation that is creating anxiety and this climate of fear, undocumented immigrants are still suffering at the hands of Trump’s regime. Food security plays out in an entirely different way when you belong in a household that must hide from the state out of fear for their lives.

Sonya Peres

Sonya Manchanda Peres is a recent graduate from McGill University. She is passionate about environmental justice and sustainable development.

About Sonya Peres

Sonya Manchanda Peres is a recent graduate from McGill University. She is passionate about environmental justice and sustainable development.