UA College of Nursing Faculty and Alumni Explore Impact of Being ‘Undocumented’ in the Context of Health

Apr 10, 2015

About 11.2 million undocumented immigrants—individuals who lack legal migration documentation—live in the United States.

For the first time, the implications for individual, family and community health of being undocumented, and nurses’ professional responsibilities for impacting care for this vulnerable population, have been comprehensively examined in a series of articles authored by University of Arizona College of Nursing alumni and former and current faculty.

The basis for the series, published in a special issue of Nursing Outlook, the official journal of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), is a white paper commissioned through the AAN Expert Panel on Global Health Nursing to examine migration, immigration, being undocumented and the influence on health.

The original white paper was authored by Marylyn M. McEwen, PhD, PHCNS-BC, FAAN, associate professor and the Gladys E. Sorensen Endowed Professor for Diabetes Research and Education at the UA College of Nursing, and a three-time graduate (BSN ’76, MSN ’87, PhD ’03); fellow alumna DeAnne K. Hilfinger Messias, PhD, RN, FAAN (BSN ’80); and former associate dean for academic affairs Joyceen S. Boyle, PhD, MPH, FAAN. To author the Nursing Outlook articles, they were joined by alumni Lauren Clark, PhD, RN, FAAN (BSN ’85, MSN ’88, PhD ’92), and Jody R. Lori, PhD, CNM, FACNM, FAAN (PhD ’09).

"To my knowledge, this is a first-of-its-kind and very timely examination through a nursing lens of the impact of state, national and global immigration policies and practices on the health of undocumented individuals, families and the communities in which they live and work,” said Dr. McEwen, who is a member of the AAN Expert Panel on Global Health Nursing.

Undocumented immigrants can suffer a variety of physical, mental and emotional burdens that negatively impact their health, including prolonged stress, impoverished conditions, barriers and restrictions to accessing health care and other social services, social and geographical isolation, discrimination and abuse, depression, and living in fear of arrest and deportation, among many others.

Dr. McEwen says the articles incorporate far-reaching implications for family and community systems, policy, and nursing education, research and practice. In particular, she hopes the articles help equip nurses to create and influence policy change that will support and promote the humane treatment of undocumented persons.

“The complex and ever-changing social and political context of being undocumented calls for nursing leaders, including those in nursing organizations, to engage in debates on immigration and health-care reform, and advocate for institutional and health policy changes that alleviate health inequities experienced by documented and undocumented immigrants locally, nationally and globally,” said Dr. McEwen.

Read the articles:


Faculty at the University of Arizona College of Nursing envision, engage and innovate in education, research and practice to help people of all ages optimize health in the context of major life transitions, illnesses, injuries, symptoms and disabilities. Established in 1957, the college ranks among the top nursing programs in the United States. For more information about the college, please visit its website,