Year of Publication

2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Dr. Patricia Ehrkamp

Abstract

This dissertation examines the experiences of Latina immigrants in Atlanta, GA in accessing and receiving reproductive healthcare. Although Atlanta is a new destination city for immigrant labor, the state of Georgia has passed anti-immigrant legislation, including a 2011 law that allows local police to check immigrants’ documentation while investigating unrelated violations. This localization of immigration policing heightens immigrants’ risk of detention and deportability. In combination with media discourses of illegality, local immigration policing instills fear in immigrants, which deters them from going out in public in order to perform everyday tasks such as seeing a doctor. Latinas immigrants’ ascribed illegality is not only an issue when trying to access reproductive healthcare, however, but also inflects their interactions with health service providers. Moreover, legal and pragmatic barriers to reproductive healthcare are bound up with ideological notions of Latinas’ reproduction. Drawing from 68 interviews with recent Latina immigrants and immigrant advocates, I detail how experiences of receiving reproductive healthcare foster a “biological citizenship” – which can be defined as the ways in which an individual or group claims inclusion through biological means – that eases Latinas’ outsider status. By enacting biological citizenship through the care of their bodies, which are often viewed and treated as undeserving of care, I contend that undocumented immigrants act politically via one of the few avenues that is open to them, albeit one – the care of the body – that is often overlooked. Additionally, they are creating a bit of security in an overwhelming insecure environment.

This research finds that Latina immigrants’ access to reproductive healthcare is impeded not only by anti-immigrant laws and inflammatory discourse, but also by pragmatic issues such as lack of health insurance and language differences. Moreover, legal and pragmatic barriers to reproductive healthcare are bound up with ideological notions of Latinas’ reproduction. For example, Latinas are frequently portrayed as “hyperfertile” in anti-immigrant discourse. Latina immigrants’ reproduction is viewed as threatening to the nation-state and is thus often blatantly or covertly treated to render Latinas as “undeserving” of citizenship and the welfare state. Interestingly, however, in the context of the aging population of the U.S., there are other discourses making their way onto the scene. These discourses reveal that Latina reproduction, though much maligned, was concomitantly viewed as the solution to revitalizing the eroding lower rungs of the U.S. population pyramid. Additionally, political pundits drew on the trope of the hyperfertile Latina immigrant to construct the hopes of an eventual permanent Democratic majority, which would be facilitated by the exponential breeding of Hispanic immigrants. However, this research corroborates 2015 statistics from the Centers of Disease Control that show that Hispanic fertility is steeply declining, thus undermining the demographic and political dreams which relied on tropes of the hyperfertile Latina.

This study aims to expand conceptions of citizenship by examining reproductive healthcare as a site where risk is negotiated and borders of membership are both constructed and broken down. The lens of biological citizenship emphasizes the political nature of healthcare access and allows for analyzing Latina immigrants’ everyday experiences with reproductive health as they are shaped by state policies, anti-immigrant legislation, and gendered portrayals of illegality. In doing so, this study complicates healthcare access and draws out both the non-biological determinants and non-biological implications of this access.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

http://dx.doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2016.178

Included in

Geography Commons

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