Medical Border Control: How Healthcare Shapes Illegality



May, 2021


09:30 h Tiempo del Pacífico

Medical Border Control: How Healthcare Shapes Illegality

Anthony M. Jimenez
PhD Rochester Institute of Technology

Over 11 million undocumented immigrants reside in the United States today, all of whom are ineligible for healthcare coverage. I examine how undocumented immigrants receive care, if at all, and how their illegality is both a social determinant of and determined by health disparities. This research is grounded in 11 months of ethnography at a volunteer-run NGO based in Houston, Texas that provides free food, clothing, basic medical services and temporary shelter to hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia each year.

While previous research has attended to how the healthcare system in the U.S. reinforces the terms of border legality, I focus on how it regulates and shapes migrants’ illegality, and by extension, exploitability. I center my analysis on three state-sanctioned border control operations – denial, detention, and deportation. I discuss (1) the bureaucratic mechanisms set in place to deny undocumented migrants basic medical care; (2) the function of informal, medically unaccredited personal care homes in detaining the most ill; and (3) the ways in which the medical district facilitates migrants’ erasure from the US nation-state (i.e., deportation by death). Synergizing the theoretical contributions of medical sociologists and immigration scholars, my research illustrates how the US healthcare system and border control not only work hand-in-hand but also strengthen one another.

Anthony Jimenez
Is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rochester Institute of Technology. He grew up along the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas and completed his doctoral program at the University of Minnesota. His research, supported in part by the Ford Foundation, focuses on border imperialism and the intersections between immigration and healthcare. In his prospective research, Anthony will explore how COVID-19 has shaped migrants’ home health options and experiences.

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