Study: Hispanic Immigrants Struggling To Feed Families

Mike Baker, AP, September 21, 2006

Raleigh, N.C.—About 60 percent of Hispanic immigrants in parts of North Carolina and Virginia are struggling to put food on the table for their families, according to a new study from researchers at Wake Forest University.

Four surveys covering 317 Latino families—mostly from rural North Carolina—found that many cash-strapped immigrants showed signs of severe hunger. More than 25 percent said their children did not have enough food to eat and sometimes had to go all day without a full meal.

“These people are living very close to the bone,” said researcher Sara Quandt, the lead author of the study, one of the first to analyze hunger in the U.S. immigrant population.

Food shortages among Hispanic immigrants were far higher than the national average of about 13 percent, the study found. Results from the four surveys—taken in different regions—found that between 49 and 71 percent of respondents described levels of food insecurity, meaning that they were constantly struggling to provide for their families.

As many as 19 percent—five times more than normal—reported a worse problem: poverty-inflicted hunger.

Quandt noted from interviews that many immigrants were ashamed to seek services, and some—possibly those who had entered the U.S. illegally—were unable to get government food aid altogether.

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The study, which Quandt indicated could be representative of Hispanic immigrant populations around the nation, did not question participants about their legal status. However, a number of respondents reported sending money back to family members in Mexico.

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North Carolina has been a magnet for Hispanic immigrants over the past decade. North Carolina has been a magnet for Hispanic immigrants over the past decade, with a Latino population burgeoning to more than 553,000, according to state data.

But Raleigh-based advocacy group El Pueblo said the plight of the Latino population is largely ignored.

“We have struggles advocating on behalf of Latinos for basic rights like education and public health care,” said Zulayka Santiago, executive director of El Pueblo. “Because Latinos are often categorized along with the undocumented population, efforts to meet the needs of this population unfortunately turns into a polarized debate—the questions of rights and legality.

“For us, it’s always issue of basic human rights.”

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