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New Bread Immigration Principles Focus on Ending Hunger

April 2013

Bread for the World sees global progress against poverty as a great exodus from hunger. We know that international migration is often part of this exodus—as people move across national borders to escape poverty and improve their livelihoods. While reducing poverty may not be the primary goal of most contemporary immigration policy reform efforts, it should certainly be one of its explicit objectives.

Bread for the World’s Immigration Principles

Bread for the World will likely have different priorities for immigration reform than some of our faith-based and secular partners. We believe that we can make the greatest contribution to the reform effort by focusing on hunger, poverty, and faith through the following principles:

1. Legalization of unauthorized immigrants in the United States will reduce poverty. Immigration reform should include an earned path to citizenship for the 11 million people now in the United States without authorization. Through legal status, immigrants will have greater opportunities to overcome poverty.

2. Immigration is an international issue. Effective policy should include better integration of U.S. immigration and development policies. Our government should acknowledge that poverty and lack of economic opportunity in neighboring countries accounts for most unauthorized immigration.

3. Immigration reform should provide continued access to safety-net programs. Immigrants and their children should have access to programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

4. Future flow of immigrants to the United States should be managed through immigrant worker programs. These programs should be based on U.S. labor-market needs and should promote job creation and economic development in immigrant-sending communities as well.

5. The well-being of U.S.-born low-wage workers must be considered in immigration reform. Investment in education and workforce training for U.S. workers should accompany immigration reform as part of a strategy to increase opportunity.

Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann has said that the Gospel of Matthew is clear in inviting us to welcome strangers into our midst, giving them food and drink.

“Truly ending hunger means addressing hunger and poverty among all people in the United States and abroad,” said Beckmann. “Our country’s immigration problem will persist if we do not tackle the root causes.

The United States Is a Nation of Immigrants

The United States has played an important role in the global exodus from hunger. Most of the nation’s population has come from waves of hopeful immigrants. Notable exceptions are Native Americans and the Africans who were brought to the Americas as slaves.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a flood of immigrants came from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe, often fleeing poverty and persecution. While their lives improved in the United States, immigrants also faced rejection for speaking different languages and practicing different religions.

Non-European immigrants faced some of the harshest discrimination. Asian immigrants, for example, have faced laws barring them from travel, forbidding them from marrying European-Americans, and tolerating violence against them.

Despite hostility and difficulties that often accompany immigration, studies consistently indicate that immigration contributes to U.S. economic growth and higher incomes for most Americans, including those born here.

Most Current Immigration Comes From Latin America

In recent decades most immigrants to the United States have come from Latin America. This is particularly true for unauthorized immigration. More than 80 percent of all unauthorized immigrants to the United States come from Latin America, with 60 percent coming from Mexico. The forces pushing immigration are clear. According to the World Bank, 51 percent of Mexican citizens live below that nation’s poverty line. The highest number of undocumented Mexican immigrants to the United States comes from the poorest regions, where poverty averages 61 percent.

Central America—comprising Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama—is the second largest source of unauthorized immigration to the United States. In those countries, poverty, malnutrition, and food insecurity are entrenched. More than 70 percent of rural Guatemalans and Hondurans live below their national poverty lines. In Nicaragua 45 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Immigrants Face Poverty in the United States

While they earn more money in the United States than in their home countries, unauthorized immigrants suffer disproportionately from food insecurity and poverty once they arrive. While legal immigrants, refugees, and guest workers all face challenges, no group of immigrants is more harmed by hunger and poverty than those without documentation. Lack of legal status contributes to their economic insecurity and exploitation. It also means that they have limited access to the social safety net in the United States. Thirty-four percent of U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrant adults lives in poverty. This is almost double the 18 percent rate for the children of U.S.- born adults.

Poverty persists in spite of those immigrants having higher workforce participation rates than either citizens or legal immigrants. Our economy depends upon the hard work of undocumented immigrants, but does not adequately compensate them. According to the Department of Labor, at least half of farm workers are undocumented. “If you didn’t have these folks, you would be spending a lot more— three, four or five times more—for food, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has said. Yet, in some unauthorized immigrant communities more than half the population is food insecure. Food insecurity tends to be particularly high among rural unauthorized immigrant communities.

The most impoverished of all immigrants often can’t afford the food that they harvest with their own hands.

Read more about Bread’s work on immigration.

PHOTO CAPTION: A migrant worker piles cucumbers in Blackwater, Virginia, on the farm of Ricky Horton and Sherilyn Shepard on Monday, July 25, 2011. Almost three-fourths of all U.S. hired farm workers are immigrants, most of them unauthorized. The U.S. food system—particularly fruit and vegetable production—depends on immigrants more than any other sector of the U.S. economy. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

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