Nearly half of California’s immigrant population impacted by food insecurity, according to policy brief


Soraya Marashi


Exclusionary policies in California are exacerbating poverty and food insecurity for the state’s immigrant communities, including the undocumented, according to a recent policy brief authored by Nourish California and published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The brief presents findings from data from the 2017-2020 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS).


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Betzabel Estudillo, Senior Advocate at Nourish California, said the findings from this data are especially important because current data concerning how food insecurity and poverty impact immigrant families in California is extremely limited.

The brief notes that, from the survey, 45% of undocumented immigrants in the state are affected by food insecurity, with the most acute rate represented by children. The rate varies according to age group, with 64% of 0-17 year olds in food-insecure households being undocumented immigrants, as well as 36% of 18-26 year olds and 46% of 27-49 year olds.

The brief also notes that nearly 500,000 of undocumented adults 18 years and older live in food-insecure households. The image below shows the number of undocumented adults by age group in these food-insecure households.



Estudillo said that while immigrant communities struggled to put food on the table prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 only exacerbated the impacts of food insecurity on these communities.

“The pandemic really shed a light on how hard it has been for communities, especially immigrant communities, to have the food they need …” she said. “People have had a really challenging time being able to have food for themselves and for their children, and now with increasing inflation and the increase in cost of food, it’s been even harder, and this lack of access to food has detrimental consequences to [a person’s health].”

The brief also states that undocumented immigrants disproportionately bear the brunt of policies that perpetuate poverty, highlighting that an estimated 625,000 undocumented adults in California have household incomes below the official federal poverty threshold. These undocumented adults experience poverty at more than twice the rate of the total adult population. 

Estudillo said that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s inclusion of food benefits expansion through the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to populations of 55 years and older, regardless of immigration status, in his May revised budget proposal presents an improvement. However, she emphasized that Nourish California would be advocating for expansions for immigrants of all ages, and especially for children. 

“[Food insecurity] has very long-term negative consequences for children’s health and educational outcomes … and that’s the reason why we want to move this [budget] proposal, so that food assistance is provided to immigrants of all ages,” she said.

CFAP was originally established to reach certain immigrants who are ineligible for CalFresh (federally known as SNAP), but the program currently excludes undocumented immigrants under age 55, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and certain visa holders. Estudillo said Nourish California plans to continue advocating for the expansion of CFAP to immigrants of all ages.

“CFAP is a state-run, state-funded program, and we have the ability to make it more inclusive and expand that program to other immigrants that continue to be excluded.”

The brief also notes that many immigrants with low incomes will avoid public programs such as nutrition assistance due to the fear of harming their immigration status or that of their family members. 

Estudillo said Nourish California would continue to work with the California Immigrant Policy Center and the Food4All Coalition to have CFAP expanded to all immigrants in the state’s budget.

“Our work will not end until immigrants have access to food benefits through CFAP, so we’ll continue to push hard until the budget is signed, but our advocacy will continue post-June,” she added.