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Our Message to Immigrant and Refugee Families: Food is a Human Right

By Susannah Morgan, CEO, Oregon Food Bank

I have a really important message today for immigrants and refugees in Oregon and Southwest Washington who are facing hunger:

  • Food — healthy, local food — is available to you.
  • You are part of our community, and you are welcome at food assistance sites.
  • Accessing food through the Oregon Food Bank Network will not affect your immigration status in any way. 
  • Please don’t accept hunger. Let our community help — because you ARE our community.  

In short: food is available; please don’t hesitate to access it if you need it.  Yet it goes without saying that these are complex and troubling times in our efforts to end hunger. 

In the past year and a half, the Trump Administration has launched a series of attacks on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program, providing funds that can only be spent on groceries. These benefits are available to low-income U.S. citizens as well as certain refugees and documented immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years.

One of the attacks on SNAP recently made news — and this is where things get much more complex. You see, the Administration proposes to include usage of SNAP food benefits in its definition of “public charge” — one of the federal government’s tests when considering applications for U.S. citizenship. Effectively, they ask “Will the person applying for citizenship likely draw on public resources?” 

For decades now, the line has been drawn at “institutionalization,” the government’s term for outright imprisonment or long-term residency in a facility supporting those with mental health, physical or developmental challenges.  The Trump Administration hopes to add several anti-poverty programs, including SNAP, to the definition of public charge. If this proposal is enacted, people who used the food assistance they are legally entitled to might have a harder time eventually becoming U.S. citizens.

At Oregon Food Bank, we believe food is a human right. No human in this country should be hungry, regardless of immigration status. We oppose this policy and any other proposal that would make our neighbors choose between eating today and the long-term health and well-being of their families. 

What’s more, there is a growing body of research that suggests these proposals have a chilling effect on families’ usage of food assistance programs— that connecting SNAP to the definition of public charge leads fewer people to use the benefits they’re entitled to. I’ve seen estimates that as many as  three million people may choose to no longer receive this critical support for themselves and their families. That’s three million people who will be hungrier out of fear of repercussions. It makes my heart hurt.

So I want to be clear that nothing about this proposed change affects our charitable food assistance network. This message is so important for our friends and neighbors who are immigrants and refugees to hear — that food is available; that our doors are open to you; and that we’re with you in fighting this policy with every ounce of energy we have.

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