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A Study of Access to Healthcare for Immigrant Women

By Aaron Richmond-Havel 09F

At a time when the national immigration debate is loaded with insensitive discourse, Susana Sanchez hoped to examine a specific population’s access to healthcare with the subjects’ humanity always in mind. Her Division III is an ethnography on Costan Rican immigrant women in New Jersey.

Speaking as a Costa Rican immigrant herself, Sanchez distinguished two interesting facets about migration that reveal the ways geography intersects with rights—or, as she puts it, “you have privilege according to your location.”

The first is a paradox Sanchez saw in migration from Costa Rica to the U.S. “Because almost everyone [in Costa Rica] has access to health care, its something that you take for granted, and something I took for granted” she says. Although “they immigrated for a better life, they do not have health insurance in the U.S.”

The second, and more complex, intersection is a comparison Sanchez makes between Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica to her research subjects within the U.S. “When I realized that Nicaraguans did not have healthcare in Costa Rica because of a 2004 law stating undocumented immigrants cannot get healthcare, it was a ringing bell for me,” says Sanchez. “I knew that word citizenship was an excuse, because before that they were so discriminated against.”

“It was interesting that I came from such an academic perspective when conducting my interviews,” Sanchez says. “I really expected them to regret not having healthcare, and to talk about it like a grievance.” Thus, Sanchez had to learn early on how to let go of her expectations and engage her participants about what they saw as the main issues. “While I was thinking academically, they were thinking about their everyday problems and not about any specific kind of theory.”

While she realized through this process that this group was more interested in social mobility than healthcare, the precariousness of their legal status haunted her: “They feel that they are part of the community, but legally they can be deported at any point.”

“Academically, I’m really pleased that I came to Hampshire,” says Sanchez. “I don’t think I would have been able to do this somewhere else because it was very personal for me.”

Sanchez’s Division III faculty committee: cultural psychology professor Kim Chang, development studies professor Betsy Hartmann.

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