Meet a Roadrunner: Milena Melo hopes to help undocumented immigrants receive health care

Meet a Roadrunner: Milena Melo hopes to help undocumented immigrants receive health care

(July 20, 2016) -- Meet Milena Melo. The UTSA doctoral student is eager to advocate for immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley, and she says the top-tier education she’s getting at UTSA is bringing her closer to her goals.

“I’ve always been interested in immigration because I was born in Mexico and my parents are immigrants,” said Melo. “I was undocumented for the grand majority of my life until Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) came out in 2012.”

Melo said UTSA has made it possible for her to pursue her passions in anthropology and health care. She is focusing her dissertation on access to health care for undocumented immigrants funded by the National Science Foundation, the UTSA Mexico Center and the UTSA Department of Anthropology.

“I’m paying attention to how immigration status matters when it comes to accessing health care and focusing on dialysis as the extreme case study,” said Melo.

During her research, Melo said she’s heard patients’ stories and seen the struggles they face.

“The grand majority only have access to dialysis through hospital emergency rooms when they are on the verge of death,” said Melo.

Melo received a research fellowship from the UTSA Mexico Center last year. Through UTSA’s partnership with the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Mexico, she was able to conduct research in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

“I received funding through the UTSA Mexico Center Educational Research Fellowship three years in a row that helped with pilot projects each summer,” said Melo. “Meeting Harriett Romo had a tremendous impact on my career.”

Melo even contributed to Romo’s new book Mexican Migration to the United States: Perspectives from Both Sides of the Border. Melo and Jill Fleuriet, associate professor of anthropology, wrote a chapter focusing on how citizenship influences immigrant health care and health care eligibility.

“I know I probably couldn’t have gotten that same support elsewhere. Dr. Jill Fleuriet is amazing. She’s the best professor and mentor I’ve ever had,” said Melo.

Melo has been awarded several fellowships and honors as a UTSA graduate student to help fund her research. Most recently, she was awarded the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, the American Anthropological Association Minority Dissertation Fellowship, and the UTSA Presidential Dissertation Fellowship.

When Melo isn’t studying, she’s mentoring other students interested in medical anthropology and immigration research topics.

The UTSA student hopes to complete her Ph.D. by May of 2017. She has goals to return to the Rio Grande Valley and use her top-tier education to make an impact on a community she loves through teaching and research.

“My ultimate goal is to impact policy one day,” said Melo. “I want to push policy to grant access to health care for undocumented immigrants. I think it should all be the same. Health care is a human right.”

By Kara Mireles
Public Affairs Specialist


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