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Care-seeking Experiences of Undocumented, Mexican Immigrant Women with Chronic Illness: A Phenomenological Study



Undocumented Mexican immigrant women in the United States are increasing in numbers, and the causes of the social and health inequalities that afflict this vulnerable group of women remain enigmatic. The Latino epidemiological paradox reflects a deceivingly positive overall scenario of wellness, despite the fact that foreign-born Mexican women have a higher prevalence of certain chronic diseases than their U.S.-born counterparts. Current health policies have been created to purposefully exclude undocumented individuals, thus further widening the existing inequities. The research literature focusing on this under-studied group of immigrants is sparse, with the studies being primarily epidemiological in nature, therefore inadequately designed to reveal the origins of the access problem.

The purpose of this study was to understand the phenomenon of the barriers to care experienced by Mexican immigrant women who are forced to exist: (a) without the legal authorization to remain in the United States, (b) having limited or no healthcare coverage, and (c) while suffering from chronic medical conditions. This interpretive phenomenological study examined the healthcare seeking experiences of 26 Mexican immigrant women, employing in-depth interviews and participant observations as sources of data.

The findings derived from the women's narratives centered around several inter-related themes: (a) the failure on the part of healthcare staff and providers to recognize the medical needs of the Mexican immigrant women as legitimate, (b) the situatedness of the women as the defining factor of the healthcare possibilities available to them, and (c) the women's strong need to survive, and the value placed on work as the motivation to stay healthy and to provide for themselves and their families. The immigrant women participants experienced multiple constraints in managing their illnesses, and suffered debilitating effects of their medical conditions. The women responded to the constraints by making accommodations in the way they managed their chronic illnesses, often foregoing needed medications due to expense (or by obtaining them in any way they could), not seeing physicians when it seemed necessary to do so, opting for less expensive self-help techniques, and passing falsified results to gain access to certain medical resources.

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