About a dozen Central American immigrants, mostly women with infants in tow, sort through crates of onions, yams, bread, and canned corn in a downtown parking lot in Oakland, California. Many of them are from Guatemala, including several wearing traditional Mayan blouses and skirts. They've gathered at this mobile food pantry because they're hungry, but they're also worried: The Trump administration's immigration crackdown has them reconsidering whether accessing social services like these could put them at greater risk of being deported.
"All the people I know are scared," says a woman holding her eight-month-old son. Some of her friends and relatives are too frightened to come to public pickup sites like this one. "Now," she adds, "they do not have enough food."
In late January, the Washington Post obtained a leaked draft executive order suggesting that the Trump administration would target noncitizen immigrants who use social services and create standards to determine "whether an alien is deportable…for having become a public charge within five years of entry."
Currently, asylum seekers and green-card holders can apply for food assistance via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps); undocumented immigrants cannot. Still, even though Trump has not signed the executive order, advocates say many authorized immigrants have preemptively canceled food benefits like SNAP—and fear that it's part of a larger retreat to avoid interacting with federal immigration officials.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank, one of the largest food banks in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently sent out a mailer to nearly 100,000 households that it had determined were eligible for food stamps. The response rate was about a quarter of that in previous years. A food bank spokesman says they had heard similar reports from other facilities; the ACCFB estimates that the refusal of these benefits has resulted in a loss of $361,972 to the local economy, since the money from food stamps isn't being spent.