Immigrants drop out of food assistance program, fearing retaliation from the Trump administration

Immigrant families in the United States live in fear.

A family friend helps care for a 5-week-old homeless baby, staying temporarily with her family at a friend's home on August 26, 2015 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)
A family friend helps care for a 5-week-old homeless baby, staying temporarily with her family at a friend's home on August 26, 2015 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

Both documented and undocumented immigrants are refusing to take government assistance to buy nutritional items like infant formula, fearing the Trump administration could deny their green card application if they take any federal aid.

According to a recent article by Politico, families are contacting local health providers in a panic, asking to be dropped from WIC, a federal nutrition program aimed at supporting pregnant women and children. This comes after it was reported the administration is considering a rule change that would allow immigration officers to take into consideration an individual’s use of certain federal aid programs to determine if they are a “public burden.”

“Non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the U.S. government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors or private organizations,” the draft rule states. “An alien’s receipt of public benefits comes at taxpayer expense and availability of public benefits may provide an incentive for aliens to immigrate to the United States.”

Among those benefits are subsidies for utility bills and assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps,” and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

WIC, however, is an under-the-radar, uncontroversial federal assistance program that has a broad reach. About half of all babies born in the United States benefit from WIC. Without it, the parents of U.S.-born children would lose access to affordable formula, immunizations, and free health and nutrition classes.


“The big concern for all of us in the WIC community is that this program is really about growing healthy babies,” Rev. Douglas Greenaway, president and CEO of the National WIC Association, told Politico. “When any population that’s potential eligible for this program is either driven away by changes in regulation or legislation or simply by political rhetoric inducing fear there are huge personal consequences to those babies and their families.”

The administration is able to draft a such a hardline immigration rule due to an archaic federal provision called the “public charge.” Under the provision, U.S. immigration law has allowed officials for the last 100 years to deny any legal permanent residency to an immigrant if they are likely to become “primarily dependent” on government services. The rule also applies to visa applicants from abroad or visa extensions within the United States. As it stands now, the rule excludes benefits like immunizations and free or reduced-priced school lunches.

Under the Trump administration, CHIP, SNAP, WIC, tax credits for low- to moderate-income families, and housing and transit subsidies would be included. Any applicant or dependent who has used any of the listed benefits in the past 36 months could be ineligible for permanent legal residence. Research from the Center For American Progress finds that this rule change would disproportionately affect the health and safety of disabled immigrants. (Editor’s note: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress)

That many documented and undocumented families would rather go without benefits for food and necessities than be denied a green card, shows just how much the Trump administration has shaken the immigrant community. Whether it be by coercing immigrant parents into signing away reunification with their children or detaining immigrants living in the United States legally, immigrant families are living in fear.