Immigration

WIC Caseloads Down 20 Percent Houston Health Officials Say, Citing Immigration Fears

Zahra Koopaei attributes the drop in caseloads to fear among the immigrant community that using federal assistance could affect their immigration status or lead to deportation.

Participation in the federally-funded program that provides nutritional assistance to pregnant women, infants and children (WIC) has decreased 20 percent since the election of President Trump, according to the Houston Health Department’s WIC Bureau Chief, Zahra Koopaei.

“This is the first time that we lose this many clients in such a short period of time,” Koopaei said, “Since (the presidential) election we went from 72,000 caseload to right now we’re barely at 58,000.”

Kimberly Buco and Zahra Koopaei administer the WIC program for the Houston Health Department.

The drop is despite the Health Department ramping up outreach efforts to enroll Houston families. 

Koopaei attributes the drop in caseload numbers to fear among the immigrant community that using federal assistance could affect their immigration status or lead to deportation.

She said that, during outreach events, her team has witnessed people walking away because a police car was parked nearby. 

“We have seen them just walk away because they are so scared that the police maybe is there to take them,” Koopaei said.  

The drop in WIC caseloads isn’t isolated to the City of Houston.

“Everybody (other WIC directors) is constantly saying that we’re constantly losing clients, we’re not able to even maintain what we have. And this is with doing the most outreach that we have done in years before,” Koopaei noted. 

Since last year, statewide WIC participation dropped 10 percent.

“It’s unfortunate that the group of people that really actually needs it the most, because they’re not able to get any health care and we’re the only source for them, they’re not able to come to us because they are so scared,” said Koopaei. 

Heightened fear of immigration law enforcement has also impacted the reporting of crime in Houston among Latinos. Community leaders, including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, speculate school enrollment is also being affected because of the same reasons. 

Proposed public charge rules by the Trump administration would have immigration officials factor in the use of some public benefits, like WIC, when deciding to issue visas or green cards. Rules have not yet been finalized and wouldn’t affect WIC participants right now. 

 

 

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