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Keywords:

  • health;
  • healthcare;
  • immigrants;
  • institutions;
  • policy;
  • poverty

We examine the institutions that comprise the U.S. health system and their relationship to a surging immigrant population. The clash between the system and this human flow originates in the large number of immigrants who are unauthorized, poor, and uninsured and, hence, unable to access a system largely based on ability to pay. Basic concepts from sociological theory are brought to bear on the analysis of this clash and its consequences. Data from a recently completed study of health institutions in three areas of the United States are used as an empirical basis to illustrate various aspects of this complex relation. Implications of our results for theory and future health policy are discussed.