Battling for survival, battling for moral clarity: "Illegality" and illness in the everyday struggles of undocumented HIV + women migrant workers in Tel Aviv Academic Article uri icon


  • Undocumented migrant workers living with HIV/AIDS in Israel, like their counterparts elsewhere, are doubly abject due to their lack of legal status on one hand and their ill health on the other. Unlike Israeli citizens living with HIV/AIDS, who can access an array of state funded treatments and support services, undocumented migrant workers living with HIV/AIDS are marginalized both by the state's exclusive immigration regime and by its efforts to shake off responsibility for their health needs. At the same time, HIV treatment and care are generally unavailable in migrants' countries of origin. Despite the state's exclusionary orientation and in contradiction of official policies, certain forms of HIV treatment are available to undocumented migrants through the day-to-day efforts of a small array of activist Israeli NGOs, (state-employed) doctors, and state officials. The tension between these simultaneous, oppositional processes of exclusion and inclusion generate a “gray area”— a zone of competing values, claims and interests- in which undocumented migrants living with HIV/AIDS and these other stakeholders search for new options and possibilities while continually taking pains to protect their own varied, and often competing, interests. Actors thus constantly bargain with laws, health policies, and one another in a collective battle not only over migrants' chances of survival, but also over the rationality and the morality underlying the state's “and their own” decisions and choices. Anchored within this complex, indeterminate zone, the present article draws upon ethnographic field research conducted among undocumented HIV+ migrant women in Tel Aviv to explore some of the stakes, mechanisms, and outcomes of these complicated, high stakes negotiation processes.

publication date

  • January 1, 2007