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Food Insecurity Among Undocumented Immigrants in California & Exclusion from Nutrition Assistance Programs

April 29, 2022

Policy Brief

Authors: Nourish California, California Immigrant Policy Center

Summary: Food insecurity is having limited, uncertain, or inconsistent access to the food necessary for a healthy life. A preponderance of research links food insecurity to harmful outcomes for children and adults. Using pooled data from the 2017–2020 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), this brief draws on quantitative data and community voices to provide a novel, state-specific analysis of food insecurity and poverty among undocumented immigrants in California.

Findings: Forty-five percent of noncitizens of all ages without legal permanent resident status in California are affected by food insecurity, including 64% of undocumented children. Nearly 500,000 undocumented adults live in households struggling with food insecurity. The federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 severely restricted immigrants’ access to public benefits, including nutrition assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In response, California established The California Food Assistance program (CFAP) to reach some immigrants who lost eligibility, but many people are still shut out: undocumented immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and certain visa holders. California can mitigate food insecurity, alleviate poverty, invest in health equity, and foster well-being by eliminating the exclusion of these groups. 

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