American Sociological Association

Racializing “Illegality”: An Intersectional Approach to Understanding How Mexican-origin Women Navigate an Anti-immigrant Climate

By shedding light on how Mexicans are racialized, scholars have brought racism to the forefront of migration research. Still, less is known about how “illegality” complicates racialized experiences, and even less is known about how gender and class further complicate this process. Drawing on 60 interviews with Mexican-origin women in Houston, Texas, this research explores how documented and Mexican American women are racialized, the institutional contexts in which this process occurs, and how women’s racialized experiences relate to feelings of belonging and exclusion. Findings suggest a form of discrimination that is intersectional and imbued within an anti-immigrant climate. “Racializing illegality” unfolds within institutional contexts that include the workplace, criminal justice system, educational institutions, and health care settings. Both immigrant and Mexican American women experience feelings of belonging and exclusion but face more exclusion associated with an anti-immigrant sentiment. This article shows the gravity of “illegality” as it extends across legal status, nativity, race, and generation status. It also contributes to the race and migration literature by suggesting the need for an intersectional approach to studying “illegality.”


San Juanita García





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