Life on the edge: Immigrants confront the American health system

Alejandro Portes, Patricia Fernández-Kelly, Donald Light

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


On the basis of a study of forty health care delivery institutions in Florida, California, and New Jersey, this paper examines the interaction between the immigration and health systems in the USA. We investigate barriers to care encountered by the foreign born, especially unauthorized immigrants, and the systemic contradictions between demand for their labour and the absence of an effective immigration policy. Lack of access and high costs have forced the uninsured poor into a series of coping strategies, which we describe in relation to commercial medicine. We highlight regional differences and the importance of local politics and history in shaping health care alternatives for the foreign born.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-22
Number of pages20
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Unauthorized immigration
  • free clinics
  • health insurance
  • institutionalized compassion
  • language assimilation
  • transnationalism


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