QUESTION: Immigration status and health in the US

question / pregunta: 

How many undocumented people in the United States have diabetes?


Answer posted by:

I found an article that notes that "data on the immigrant population, as recorded in the CPS, NHIS, census, and vital statistics, do not distinguish between naturalized immigrants, permanent residents, nonimmigrants (e.g., temporary workers, students, and visitors), and illegal immigrants" (Siahpush, M., & Singh, G. K. (2002). Ethnic-immigrant differentials in health behaviors, morbidity, and cause-specific mortality in the United States: an analysis of two national data bases. Human Biology, 74(1), 83-109). In other words, given the nature of the population, it won't be possible to get comprehensive statistics.

However, it might be possible to get a sense of trends for specific populations of undocumented immigrants. For example, this document mentions the prevalence of diabetes amongst Latinos:

Wallace, S. P., & Castaneda, X. (2008). Migration and health: Latinos in the United States. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. [PDF]

This article mentions higher rates of diabetes among migrants more generally, but does not distinguish between documented and undocumented people:

Argeseanu Cunningham, S., Ruben, J. D., & Venkat Narayan, K. M. (2008). Health of foreign-born people in the United States: a review. Health & place, 14(4), 623-635.

Is there a particular group of immigrants that you're interested in? Or perhaps issues associated with undocumented people and health more generally?

Answer posted by:
jim miller

Possibly your best first try would be to look for state as well as federal reports and websites. But their plain Bing search, like Google, does not allow very precise searching. The search for both exact phrases: "undocumented immigrants" "diabetes statistics" is TOO restrictive, and gets only 2 hits; "undocumented immigrants" diabetes statistics gets 6330. That DOES, however, drop to about 153 as you scroll down to see more hits - not an impossible number to look at. Compare Google's search for: "undocumented immigrants" diabetes statistics site:gov ("about 2300 results"), which turns out to be 435 "unique" hits on 44 pages. No doubt it's best to first look at the 8 hits for: "undocumented immigrants" "diabetes statistics" site:gov or the "18" (really 13) for: "undocumented immigrants" "diabetes statistics" site:edu - though you might well be missing some good pages that don't have those exact phrases.

Google Scholar can quickly get frustrating unless you are going through a large university's proxy login - to get access to its large number of commercial journal articles. It gets 10 hits for: "undocumented immigrants" "diabetes statistics", and a few seem to be free online. But its "about 1040" results for: "undocumented immigrants" diabetes statistics may well be that many, and they look like primarily commercial journal articles.

You can try, with fairly general searches such as: undocumented immigrants diabetes (8 articles), or immigrants diabetes statistics (144 articles, 21 of them free online). But to see the many commercial journal articles full text, you would need to be onsite at a large public university library - preferably one with a large public health or medical school. Most public universities will also provide onsite guest access to other large full text databases such as Academic Search Premier, ScienceDirect, and JSTOR.

Academic Search Premier is very reliable with "truncation" to get many word combinations: immigrant* and diabet* and statistic* gets 105 results, all of them in "scholarly/peer reviewed" journals (you can click that limiter before OR after you do a search). Adding the word "undocumented" - undocumented and immigrant* and diabet* and statistic* gets no results, except for Ebsco's "smart search" result of 17 hits, which do not look too relevant to me. Ebsco's default search is author, title, abstract, journal title, and subjects. If you "Select a field" TX-All text, it's important to use proximity search, to find where the words are fairly close together and hopefully related. TX undocumented n50 immigrant* n50 diabet* n50 statistic* confirms that those words are not near each other - even in full text. It might be worth checking the 10 articles (8 in peer reviewed) for the more general TX search: undocumented n5 immigrant* n50 diabet*.

ScienceDirect is all Elsevier journals, and a major source of full text scholarly research. It defaults to full text search, but the proximity is different: undocumented w/50 immigrant* w/50 diabet* gets 21 articles; even the more precise: "undocumented immigrant*" w/50 diabet* gets 11 articles. JSTOR is also a full text default search, and has yet another proximity format: "undocumented immigrants diabetes"~50 gets 2 articles. But "undocumented immigrants diabetic"~50 gets zero, and also "undocumented immigrants diabet*"~50 gets zero - truncation is NOT reliable in JSTOR.

Most large universities have access to Dissertations & Theses Full Text (Proquest), which defaults to full text search, and uses the same format as ScienceDirect: undocumented w/5 immigrants w/50 diabetes finds 16 dissertations or theses. As in ScienceDirect, truncation also seems to be reliable: undocumented w/5 immigrant* w/50 diabet* gets 17 dissertations. Some libraries will have other full text journal "packages", such as Springer's Springerlink and Wiley's Online Library. These last 2 are less sophisticated search engines. Springerlink gets 97 hits for: "undocumented immigrants" and diabet*; Wiley gets 111. You may be able to search many of these without logging in or going onsite - you just won't be able to see full text without buying articles at a very high price. For example, the "free" online search of ScienceDirect gets those 11 articles for: "undocumented immigrant*" w/50 diabet*, but if you are not at a subscribing library and want to see PDF online, they charge $31.50 or more per article.

I just wanted to chime in with some research I found on tracking undocumented (or unauthorized, or illegal - depends on the politics of the person using the term) immigrants. In some ways, this is a very tough question, as even the term "undocumented" itself suggests a difficulty in tracking a given population. According to a 2010 report from the Department of Homeland Security (, the "number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in January 2010 was 10.8 million—the same as in January 2009—but down from 11.8 million in January 2007. Between 2000 and 2010, the unauthorized population grew by 27 percent. Of all unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in 2010, 39 percent entered in 2000 or later, and 62 per-cent were from Mexico."
But this only gets at statistics of the undocumented (or as government sources tend to call them, "unauthorized" - good to keep in mind if you're doing future research on this topic) population as a whole. For some information on health issues, I found this organization, Migration Information Source (, which "provides fresh thought, authoritative data from numerous global organizations and governments, and global analysis of international migration and refugee trends. A unique online resource, the Source offers useful tools, vital data, and essential facts on the movement of people worldwide." The have a lot of data related to unauthorized immigration in the US and abroad, which might come in handy for future research. As a tip, when searching for documents on this site, remember to put commas between any terms that are of interest to you, rather than just a straight list (so, instead of what you might pop into Google, something like "unauthorized immigration US health" you'd need to structure it as "unauthorized immigration, US, health."