SB 4 adds hunger as threat to un­doc­u­mented mi­grants

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

The state’s new ban on sanc­tu­ary cities in­creases the risk of food in­se­cu­rity and hunger among un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and their chil­dren, many of whom are U.S. cit­i­zens.

Texas is home to roughly 1.5 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, 38 per­cent of who, are un­doc­u­mented fam­i­lies liv­ing with at least one U.S. cit­i­zen un­der the age of 18. Cur­rently, 1 of ev­ery 4 Texas chil­dren does not have reg­u­lar ac­cess to food in a given year. Un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants are twice as likely to be food in­se­cure as the over­all pop­u­la­tion. The high risk of food in­se­cu­rity in Texas cou­pled with the state’s ban on sanc­tu­ary cities is a recipe for hunger.

Dur­ing the de­bate over the anti-sanc­tu­ary cities bill, state Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Hous­ton, said that the daily trip to the gro­cery store “might seem like a sim­ple task, but for my fam­ily it meant risk­ing a chance of en­coun­ter­ing an im­mi­gra­tion raid and hav­ing our fam­ily sep­a­rated ... I know first­hand the im­pact Se­nate Bill 4 will have on many fam­i­lies ... Moth­ers will be afraid to go to the gro­cery store to buy gro­ceries for their fam­ily, as my mother was once afraid.”

De­spite the many Tex­ans tes­ti­fy­ing against SB4, in­clud­ing ma­jor city po­lice chiefs, Texas Repub­li­cans dis­re­garded them en­tirely.

Due to the fear of de­tec­tion and hav­ing their fam­i­lies torn apart, un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants are chang­ing the way they ac­cess food.

Some are ad­just­ing to the threat of de­por­ta­tion by with­draw­ing their U.S. cit­i­zen chil­dren from SNAP ben­e­fits, ac­cord­ing to anec­do­tal ev­i­dence. SNAP is law­fully dis­trib­uted to el­i­gi­ble in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing more than half a mil­lion U.S. chil­dren liv­ing with their un­doc­u­mented fam­i­lies. The ben­e­fits are only al­lot­ted based on fam­ily mem­bers who are cit­i­zens. SNAP ben­e­fits are sup­ple­men­tal — not enough to sup­port an en­tire im­mi­grant fam­ily, but enough to pro­vide a por­tion of food as­sis­tance.

A sec­ond way im­mi­grant fam­i­lies are ac­cess­ing food is by min­i­miz­ing vis­its to the lo­cal gro­cery store and turn­ing to pri­vate non­prof­its that pro­vide ac­cess to fresh pro­duce and pantry item foods. For im­mi­grant fam­i­lies, these path­ways are a safe sanc­tu­ary to ac­cess food.

Food as­sis­tance pro­grams, whether gov­ern­ment-funded or through a non­profit’s food pantry, work to­gether. An in­di­vid­ual us­ing both types of re­sources can ac­cess food more eas­ily than if one path­way is cut off. The state’s new im­mi­grant law does just that — in­di­rectly cut­ting off re­sources to a vul­ner­a­ble, un­der­served pop­u­la­tion. The law pun­ishes im­mi­grant fam­i­lies and their chil­dren in a most in­hu­mane way: by in­creas­ing hunger. The with­drawal from as­sis­tance pro­grams by these fam­i­lies will ex­ac­er­bate the al­ready ex­ist­ing high risk of food in­se­cu­rity among this pop­u­la­tion. Con­se­quently, chil­dren in low-in­come fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially in the first 1,000 days of their lives when phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment oc­curs, will face a bro­ken foun­da­tion lead­ing to long-term health ef­fects and de­crease in pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Sanc­tu­ary cities are not just po­lit­i­cal state­ments by lo­cal en­ti­ties, but a way to en­sure that com­mu­ni­ties trust one an­other. Anti-sanc­tu­ary poli­cies cre­ate less safe, less healthy en­vi­ron­ments both men­tally and phys­i­cally for im­mi­grants through food in­se­cu­rity, in­creased fear and anx­i­ety.

In­stead of de­creas­ing ac­cess to food and in­creas­ing fear through harsh im­mi­gra­tion prac­tices, poli­cies at the fed­eral and state level should ad­vo­cate for sanc­tu­ary cities. There is an ur­gent need for Texas law­mak­ers to se­ri­ously con­tem­plate all the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of anti-sanc­tu­ary poli­cies. And they should be pre­pared to face the con­se­quences of not only an in­crease in food in­se­cu­rity, but also to the ever-ris­ing health costs of our state and the costs of de­fend­ing the new law. Tex­ans de­serve bet­ter, our im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties de­serve bet­ter, and we must con­tinue to fight against the state’s anti-sanc­tu­ary law.

AD­DIE BROYLES / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

A vol­un­teer un­packs fresh pro­duce from Hous­ton-based non­profit Brighter Bites at Odom El­e­men­tary in South Austin. The Cen­tral Texas Food Bank de­liv­ers up to 3 tons of pro­duce to eight Austin el­e­men­tary schools each week.

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