“Can you tell me about cancer care for the undocumented?” I asked Henry during an interview. He was a doctor who volunteered his time at a community-based clinic designed exclusively for low-income undocumented migrants.

I use pseudonyms throughout this story to protect migrants’ identities.

“It’s bad,” Henry said. “Cancer care for the undocumented is not there. It’s just not there for the most part. They’re dying of cancer. Period.”

“So where do they go?” I asked.

“They don’t,” he responded solemnly. “They either go back to their home countries or they just live with it until they die. That’s what happens.”

As a medical sociologist and expert in health care disparities between noncitizens and citizens, my research explores the many ways that health care and immigration collide.

Though most migrants have some form of legal documents like passports, visas and identity cards, I use the term “undocumented” in this article to refer to those whose documents are expired, invalid or otherwise missing. I feel the term is useful because it captures a heightened sense of insecurity and instability that many migrants face in their daily lives.

According to Migration Policy Institute estimates, more than 11 million undocumented migrants are living in the United States, and many of them are ineligible for health coverage. Though some states are working to challenge this, undocumented migrants remain one of the largest uninsured populations in the country.

For low-income undocumented migrants, navigating the U.S. health care system involves a number of risks, challenges and consequences that often make them sicker. My research is designed to shed light on these experiences.


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