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Bodega Clinica: Friend or foe of the undocumented immigrant?

The New York Times recently reported on the phenomenon of cash-only bodega clinicas in U.S. cities with a booming Latino population.  These clinics, which are essentially doctors’ offices, provide a comprehensive range of services for their patients with one caveat: Cash Only.  Sounds great, right? Maybe.

Whether you find the Affordable Care Act to be a patriotic movement, or inherently un-American, there are individuals in this country who are not in on the debate.  Undocumented immigrants were left out of the benefits (or burdens?) of Obamacare.  With little alternatives, they turn to bodega clinicas for medical attention.  The services provided range from a run-of-the-mill checkup to a pap smear to surgery.  The bottom line remains: Cash only.

Growing up in New Jersey, I only saw clinics like these in downtown Miami when I would visit my family (as every good cubanita must do at least once a year). They exuded a certain underground feel. It was as if they were invisible, just part of the landscape, except to those who purposely sought them out. They were hidden in plain sight.  But why hide?  Bodega clinicas have undoubtedly served a necessary function for many people in our society, not just the undocumented.

For a young entrepreneur without health insurance, paying $40 for a doctor’s visit and a shot of antibiotics is like winning the lottery!  For a part-time student struggling to get by, it’s a no-brainer to visit a bodega clinica instead of the hospital emergency room. But some question the integrity behind bodega clinicas. One main reason for the concern is that bodega clinicas operate largely under the radar. They refer to themselves as “clinics” but are principally doctors’ offices operating without the oversight of government regulations imposed upon medical facilities.  Add to this that they seem to attract mostly undocumented Latinos as patients, a group who is already underrepresented in our society, and there may be cause for concern.

With the Affordable Care Act edging its way into our daily lives and consciousness, the question remains whether bodega clinicas are a practicable way of filling the significant shortage of primary care physicians our country faces.  In order to do this, the clinics would have to jump on the bandwagon of federal regulations and forego their cash-only business prototype. They would no longer operate with the underground feel that perhaps helps attract many undocumented immigrants to their door. Would this protect our gente from unscrupulous clinics, or just close another door in a country ever-growing with anti-immigrant sentiment?

While every bodega clinica may not operate with the altruistic mission of serving the undocumented Latino population, I absolutely believe there are many doctors who sincerely want to help the undocumented and the poor, and have found a way to do so through these clinics.  Government regulation and government oversight might be necessary, but whatever fate may hold for bodega clinicas in the future, today they are helping those who our government forgot.


By Being Latino Contributor, Lissette Diaz

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Excellent topic; very fair and balanced writing. I look forward to reading future installments of this series!

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