Hiding within Racial Hierarchies: Law Enforcement and Residential Selection among Undocumented Immigrants in the United States


This article examines how law enforcement shapes the residential choices of undocumented immigrants, likely contributing to broader patterns of residential stratification. Drawing on in-depth interviews with undocumented immigrants in households with young children in Dallas County, Texas, we outline several pathways through which undocumented status shapes residential selection and stratification. We find that, though respondents would prefer to live in racially-integrated neighborhoods characterized by low rates of poverty and violent crime, they view residence in any space with a large share of white residents as untenable. These areas are thought to pose a special risk to our respondents, who believe federal immigration and local law enforcement officials patrol these neighborhoods for the presence of undocumented immigrants. Living in co-ethnic Hispanic or in African-American areas instead emerge as two residential strategies that similarly prioritize an alternative set of neighborhood resources: protection from federal immigration and local law enforcement officials, concealment of immigrants’ undocumented status, and deflection of legal authorities’ attention from their own precarious position to that of their neighbors. These findings not only contribute to theories of residential selection by illustrating how the law and its enforcement can exacerbate residential stratification but also advance debates regarding the future of ethno-racial inequality in the U.S.

Last updated on 08/18/2017