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

Eva Rosen
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

In the United States, the residential segregation of Latinos from whites has persisted but has fallen 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 residential decision-making. Drawing on interviews with undocumented-headed, Latin American-origin families in Dallas, Texas, we explore how lacking legal status relates to residential selection. We find that some undocumented families perceive certain neighbourhoods 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 sample households agree that law enforcement patrols areas with white majorities in order to exclude Latinos and, specifically, the undocumented. As a strategy to minimise the perceived risk law enforcement poses to their families’ stability, some undocumented families in the study report opting into neighbourhoods with Latino majorities in order to ‘blend in’, whereas others describe feeling safe in neighbourhoods with black majorities where they can ‘hide in plain sight’. We demonstrate how undocumented families’ perceptions of law enforcement in neighbourhoods with differing racial compositions may partly underlie trends in residential selection and stratification