Hiding within Racial Hierarchies: How Undocumented Immigrants Make Residential Decisions in an American City


In the United States, trends in the residential segregation of Latinos from whites have remained stable over the last several decades, but levels of segregation have begun to fall between Latinos and blacks. Demographers offer the size of the Latino population that is undocumented as one potential explanation for these patterns. However, little work has examined undocumented immigrants’ first-hand accounts of their residential decisions. Drawing on multi-year interviews with undocumented-headed, Hispanic-origin families in Dallas County, Texas, we explore how lacking legal status is related to residential selection processes. We find that some undocumented families perceive certain neighborhoods to be “off-limits,” not only because of financial constraints, explicit legal impediments to their tenure, or individual racial preferences, but also because they perceive them as high-risk: Most households in the study agree that law enforcement officials patrol areas with white majorities in order to exclude Latinos and, specifically, the undocumented. As a strategy to minimize this perceived risk, some undocumented families report opting into neighborhoods with Latino majorities in order to “blend in,” whereas others describe feeling safe in neighborhoods with black majorities where they can “hide in plain sight.” We demonstrate how undocumented families’ perceptions of law enforcement in neighborhoods with differing racial compositions may partly underlie broader patterns of residential selection and stratification. 

Last updated on 05/08/2018