CALIFORNIA, USA — Advocates are making a big push for the Food4All Campaign, with the goal of making food available to anyone regardless of their immigration status.
"The reality is that two in five undocumented Californians experience food insecurity in their household, and that rate is even higher for households with children," said Benyamin Chao, who is a formerly undocumented immigrant.
Imagine being hungry but not having access to food benefits because of your legal status. For Chao, that scenario is one he remembers after he and his family from Brunei in Southeast Asia arrived in the U.S. undocumented.
"Food insecurity didn't always look like not having enough to eat. It meant also having restricted options in what our family could afford to eat, so we weren't always able to eat the most healthy food or sometimes my mom would choose to feed us before she fed herself," Chao said.
Those decisions were made despite their family having a history of chronic heart illness and his mother's life depending on eating healthy. But Chao's family is only one of thousands.
In a town hall Wednesday morning, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California expressed how it affects Latinx communities.
"We know that just in living wage employment opportunities, which are necessary to combat poverty are even more limited for undocumented Latinx in California. In a 2021 statewide survey, respondents cited high food prices and inconsistent or not enough income as the biggest barriers to not getting enough food," said Mar Velez, who is the State Policy Senior Manager for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.
Right now, the biggest push is to have the state implement food benefits for those 55 and older, but with inflation on the rise, advocates are fighting for no age limit.
"Immigrants are a part of the fabric of what makes California. My family, we're immigrants and we've spent over 20 years of our lives living here, contributing, being neighbors. My oldest brother is an RN. Two of my brothers are chefs," Chao said.
Chao now has a green card and is also contributing by working to change policies.
Advocates said California has approved benefits for people 55 and older despite their immigration status, but they are still waiting to hear when it will start.