Affiliation: Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Health Behavior
Background: Documentation status is a social determinant of migrants’ health, although existing research is limited. Migrant health research has utilized cultural frameworks, such as acculturation and assimilation, to explain the health effects of restrictive migration policies. This dissertation aimed to explore the lived experiences of migrant Mexican men that lived undocumented in the US and understand how living undocumented affected their mental health and well-being.
Methods: I conducted a transnational ethnographic and phenomenological study including in-depth interviews with Mexican men in North Carolina and Mexican who were living or had lived undocumented, their family members, and service providers. I also analyzed existing oral histories and engaged in participant observation at a workers’ center for day laborers. Analysis entailed writing analytical summaries, coding, memoing, and generating matrices to summarize and interpret data.
Results: Living undocumented for Mexican men meant feeling like nobody, enacting pride to protect themselves from constant abuses, living surveilled and criminalized, and feeling socially disabled by the multiple everyday challenges. Living undocumented affected their mental and physical health. Men expressed that their undocumentedness was always present in their minds, and generated negative feelings, depression and anxiety. Undocumentedness was embodied through somatic symptoms, experiences of injury at work, chronic diseases, and disability. Men implemented coping strategies to deal with the effects of their migration status on their mental and physical health, mainly avoidance. Other ways of coping and getting some control back in their lives included reaching out for community services and resources, and preparing to return to Mexico in case of deportation.
Conclusion: Undocumentedness is a complex phenomenon that affects the lives and health of Mexican men in multiple ways. The multiple challenges they experience in their everyday activities and the effects of living undocumented on their bodies make avoidance difficult to sustain. Interventions need to help men living undocumented deal with daily stressors, connect men to local community resources, develop strategies to deal with daily challenges related to be undocumented, and develop a plan in case the case of voluntary or forced return to their countries of origin. Community and structural interventions are also needed.