California’s Undocumented Children Are Going Hungry

Last month, Nourish California and the California Immigrant Policy Center published a devastating report, based on data collected by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research, on food insecurity faced by undocumented immigrant families in the Golden State.

The conclusions of the report are shocking, albeit not surprising: Fully 45 percent of the state’s undocumented residents are food insecure, with the preponderance of food insecurity occurring among children. The researchers found that 64 percent of children aged 17 or under lived in food-insecure households. By contrast, 11 percent of all American households and 10 percent of all Californian households are food insecure, according to data generated by United Health Foundations.

The food insecurity report’s authors also estimated that 625,000 undocumented adults in the state live in households that are below the federal poverty line ($26,246 for a family of four). This in a state where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is more than $1,700 per month, and where the $15 per hour minimum wage was supposed to bring economic security within reach of California’s low-wage earners.

During the Trump years, many legal immigrants were systematically excluded from public benefits under the Public Charge rule. As for the undocumented, Trump’s team wanted to push them as far into the economic margins as possible, making their lives exercises in continual insecurity. At the state level, in a pushback against Trumpian excess, some states did make efforts to create benefits programs for undocumented residents, but often these programs were not accessed in large numbers by immigrants. Some worried that any paper trail linking them to benefits could be used by the federal government to track them down and commence deportation proceedings.

When emergency financial packages were put together by Congress during the pandemic, they systematically excluded the undocumented—even though millions of undocumented workers were suddenly left without income as hotels were shuttered, the garment industry went into hibernation, and so on; millions of others kept their jobs but lacked access to even the most rudimentary health benefits. This despite the fact that newspapers were filled with stories about how so many undocumented residents, and their family members, heroically performed “essential work” to keep a pandemic-ravaged economy and society on their feet.

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