Fear of deportation drives people off food stamps in US

In this May 17, 2017 photo, Rosa, an undocumented immigrant who who wants her last name withheld, pauses as she speaks during an interview, in New York. Rosa who used to get about $190 per month from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, stopped taking benefits fearing deportation, and now gets by with the help of a local church and some family members. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

NEW YORK (AP) — A crackdown on illegal immigration under President Donald Trump has driven some poor people to take a drastic step: opt out of federal food assistance because they are fearful of deportation, activists and immigrants say.

People who are not legal residents of the U.S. are not eligible to take part in what is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

But many poor families include a mix of non-legal residents and legal ones, such as children who have citizenship because they were born in the U.S. In those cases, it is often an adult who is not a legal resident who submits the application.

Some now feel that is too dangerous under a president who has made immigration enforcement a priority. Throughout the U.S., there are accounts of people resisting efforts of nonprofit organizations to sign them up for food stamps, letting benefits lapse or withdrawing from the program because of the perceived risk.

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“They don’t want to put their name and address on a form for a government public benefit out of fear that they’ll be sought out and asked to leave,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of Catholic Charities of Orange County, California.

The food stamp program provides monthly payments, typically about $125 per eligible household member, to poor families to buy essential staples. Going without can be an extreme decision, advocates say.

“This means less food on the table, fewer meals in houses where the kids have rights because they are U.S. citizens,” said Andrew Hammond, an attorney for Chicago’s Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

It is not possible to determine the extent of the phenomenon. The number of food stamp recipients has declined as the U.S. recovers from the Great Recession and people could drop out for various reasons.

A 52-year-old woman interviewed in New York City, a Mexican in the country illegally, told The Associated Press she was motivated in January to drop a benefit that was supporting her teenage daughter, a U.S. citizen, purely because she was afraid of being in the food stamp system, which requires applicants to state their immigration status.

“I had been told that it’s OK to apply for food stamps. But, for the moment, I don’t want to take any risks,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of her immigration status and was introduced to AP through an organization that helps immigrants, the Mexican Coalition of the South Bronx.

Some now feel that is too dangerous under a president who has made immigration enforcement a priority. Throughout the U.S., there are accounts of people resisting efforts of nonprofit organizations to sign them up for food stamps, letting benefits lapse or withdrawing from the program because of the perceived risk.

“They don’t want to put their name and address on a form for a government public benefit out of fear that they’ll be sought out and asked to leave,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of Catholic Charities of Orange County, California.

The food stamp program provides monthly payments, typically about $125 per eligible household member, to poor families to buy essential staples. Going without can be an extreme decision, advocates say.

“This means less food on the table, fewer meals in houses where the kids have rights because they are U.S. citizens,” said Andrew Hammond, an attorney for Chicago’s Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

It is not possible to determine the extent of the phenomenon. The number of food stamp recipients has declined as the U.S. recovers from the Great Recession and people could drop out for various reasons.

A 52-year-old woman interviewed in New York City, a Mexican in the country illegally, told The Associated Press she was motivated in January to drop a benefit that was supporting her teenage daughter, a U.S. citizen, purely because she was afraid of being in the food stamp system, which requires applicants to state their immigration status.

“I had been told that it’s OK to apply for food stamps. But, for the moment, I don’t want to take any risks,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of her immigration status and was introduced to AP through an organization that helps immigrants, the Mexican Coalition of the South Bronx.

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