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Indigenous Places and the Making of Undocumented Status in Mexico-U.S. Migration

International Migration Review

The uneven distribution of economic and social resources across communities often falls along ethno-racial dimensions. Few demographers have considered whether such axes of place stratification in a migrant-sending country relate to individuals’ access to economic and social resources in a migrant-receiving country. Taking Mexico-US migration flows as our focus, we examine if having origins in an indigenous place, a primary axis of stratification in Mexico, is associated with migrants’ documentation status when crossing the border, a primary dimension of stratification in the United States. We rely on individual-level data from the Mexican Migration Project merged with municipal-level data from the Mexican Census. Using multilevel models, we find that migrants from communities in indigenous municipalities in Mexico are more likely to migrate undocumented than documented to the United States compared with those from communities in non-indigenous municipalities, net of the economic and social resources identified in prior work as useful for international movement. We discuss why indigenous places — marked by a set of correlated conditions of economic and social disadvantage — disproportionately channel migrants into an undocumented status. This study contributes to understandings of stratification processes in cross-border contexts and has implications for the production of inequality in the United States.