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Fostering Equity: Centering Immigrants and Refugees to End Hunger

Oregon Food Bank is dedicated to ending hunger and its root causes. We know that the root causes of hunger are systemic injustices — including the intersections of racism, classism, sexism, settler colonialism and more — which create and perpetuate the conditions that sustain hunger and poverty. Understanding this, we commit to center those who most disproportionately experience hunger across our service area — Black, Indigenous and all People of Color, immigrants and refugees, gender expansive individuals (including Two-Spirit folks), and single mothers and caregivers — in ways that honor and value each other and our lived experiences.

The disproportionate rates of food insecurity faced by immigrants and refugees in Oregon highlight the urgency of targeted support and the need for transformative change. Those most affected by an issue possess invaluable insights and solutions.

Disproportionate Rates of Food Insecurity in Oregon:

Poverty is the root cause of hunger — and systemic racism and xenophobia drive poverty in immigrant and refugee communities across the nation and right here in Oregon. 1 in 5 Oregonians born outside of the U.S. live in poverty. Almost 80 percent of Latine immigrant parents surveyed in Oregon in 2020 reported being worried whether food would run out before they received enough money to buy more. And immigrants and refugees who hold intersecting identities — those who are women, LGBTQ+, and/or disabled — experience food insecurity at even higher rates.

Barriers to Food Assistance for Immigrants and Refugees:

Food is a human right. Everyone in Oregon should have access to food, no matter where we were born. Yet over 62,000 Oregonians are excluded from food assistance and other vital programs today — such as SNAP — simply because of their immigration status (You can learn more about the work to expand benefits through the Food for All Oregonians campaign). Even for immigrant and refugee Oregonians who are legally eligible for SNAP and other assistance, a history of xenophobic policies and threats to citizenship have left many afraid to apply for benefits.

In 2019, the Trump administration announced changes to public charge, a set of administrative rules that sought to reduce immigrants’ ability to access public benefits while waiting for citizenship. Public charge rules make it so that if a person applying for citizenship has used certain public assistance programs, that is counted against their application for citizenship. This rule change, for the first time, included SNAP, Medicaid and housing benefits, making these services essentially unusable for immigrants who are otherwise eligible.

This ruling effectively criminalized poverty, hunger and immigrant families by threatening citizenship and spreading fear about accessing benefits, even after the rule was eventually rolled back by the Biden administration. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened this situation, with 46 percent of immigrant families who were in need of assistance abstaining from applying due to concerns over immigration status (Protecting Immigrant Families). Further, many immigrants and refugees were intentionally excluded from COVID-19 relief programs and unemployment insurance, compounding economic hardship (Oregon Hunger Task Force).

Advocacy for Systemic Change in Oregon:

Oregon Food Bank actively engages in advocacy efforts to address the root causes of hunger. By prioritizing the needs of immigrants and refugees, Oregon Food Bank advocates for equity-driven policies. Addressing systems rooted in oppression requires dismantling anti-Blackness, settler colonialism and practices and policies that perpetuate White supremacy. We work collaboratively to dismantle harmful systems, including with ACLU of Oregon, APANO, IRCO, Latino Network, Micronesian Islander Community, PCUN, Urban League of Portland and Unite Oregon and on campaigns such as Food for All Oregonians. Partnering with these organizations and statewide coalitions, Oregon Food Bank seeks to drive systemic change and support a thriving Oregon.

Individuals who hold an identity of Oregon Food Bank’s equity constituencies contribute valuable leadership to ending hunger and its root causes while also experiencing disproportionately higher rates of food insecurity and discrimination. Through following the leadership of immigrants and refugees, Oregon Food Bank taps into a wellspring of knowledge, shaping innovative and effective strategies to end hunger and its root causes.

Immigrants and Refugees in the Oregon Food Bank Community Tell Their Stories:

It’s really important to grow and to share culturally specific produce for me because I view it as a way of healing. It's healing for me to be able to grow foods that are culturally significant for me, my grandparents and my family.

Gonzalo Garcia Reyes, farmer, Lomita Farm
Read Gonzalo’s story hereRead Gonzalo’s story here

Everybody has the right to food, whatever their immigration status. Food is essential. It's not something extra that I need to be successful. Everybody needs access to food. Oregon has the resources. And we can help everybody. So why not help everybody? Why not give everybody access to the resources we already have?

Eman Abbas, OFB Ambassador
Read Eman’s story hereRead Eman’s story here

Resources:

  • PCUN: PCUN empowers farmworkers and working Latinx families in Oregon by building community, increasing Latinx representation in elections, and policy advocacy on both the national and state levels.
  • CAPACES Leadership Institute: The Capaces Leadership Institute strengthens the wellness, capacity and political consciousness of individuals, organizations, movements and community to eliminate social disparities. The Capaces Network is composed of nine organizations serving and organizing the Mid-Willamette Valley Latino community and allies.
  • APANO: APANO unites Asians and Pacific Islanders to build power, develop leaders and advance equity through organizing, advocacy, community development and cultural work.
  • IRCO: The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO's) mission is to welcome, serve and empower refugees, immigrants and people across cultures and generations to reach their full potential.
  • Latino Network: Latino Network is a Latino-led education organization, grounded in culturally specific practices and services, that lifts up youth and families to reach their full potential.

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