The Undocumented Closet

BY Rose Cuison Villazor

The phrase “coming out of the closet” traditionally refers to moments when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals decide to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity to their families, friends, and communities.In the last few years, many immigrants, particularly those who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were very young, have invoked the narrative of “coming out.”Specifically, they have publicly “outed” themselves by disclosing their unauthorized immigration status despite the threat of deportation laws.In so doing, they have revealed their own closet—”the undocumented closet”—in which they have been forced to hide their identity as “undocumented Americans.” Notably, by choosing to become visible, these undocumented Americans are slowly yet powerfully reforming immigration policy by demanding that they are recognized as lawful members of the American polity.

This Article explores the roles that the closet metaphor and the act of “coming out”  play in the immigration justice movement.In particular, with the experiences of LGBTQ in the gay closet in the background, this Article theorizes the “undocumented closet” to examine and critique the laws that compel immigrants to become invisible and render them legally powerless. Understanding the ways in which these laws legally constructed the “undocumented closet” is particularly timely in light of contemporary debates about immigration reform. At minimum, the undocumented closet highlights the need for legal changes that would recognize and establish “undocumented Americans” as members of the American community.More broadly, it underscores a rethinking of immigration law that would prevent the further “closeting” and subordination of immigrants and their families.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 92 N.C. L. Rev. 1 (2014)