The Unspoken Voices of Indigenous Women in Immigration Raids

40 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2010 Last revised: 19 Apr 2017

Date Written: November 22, 2010


The voices of the most vulnerable populations often point towards social constructs in dire need of systemic change. The treatment of immigrant women in workplace raids exemplifies this concept. Over the last couple of years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has executed several workplace raids to deport undocumented immigrants who are unauthorized to work in this country. When discussing workplace raids, most news articles focus on the mass deportation of men, this paper will take a different perspective, and examine indigenous immigrant Guatemalan women’s stories in migrating to the United States, seeking employment with large factories, and their interactions with the immigration system. In May 2008, in Postville, Iowa, the largest raid in this country’s history occurred where 389 immigrants were arrested. Approximately, 76 of the immigrants detained in the raid were women. Similarly, in April 2008, approximately 300 immigrants were arrested in the Pilgrim’s Pride Poultry raid nationwide. In both cases the women were released pending their deportation proceedings on humanitarian grounds to care for children or because they were pregnant.

This paper will explore how race, class and gender intersect to create the conditions under which indigenous Guatemalan women of color migrate to the United States, their work, and their unique experiences with the immigration system. As the intersection theory highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed, this paper will use this theory to critically analyze the ways in which our legal system addresses undocumented women workers. The paper will proceed in four parts. The first section details how migratory laborers are forced to work in an underground system that fails to recognize their humanity and their work. The section will detail how immigration raids affect undocumented immigrant employees and the towns in which they work. The second section tells the story of a Mam Mayan indigenous woman from Guatemala who was detained in the Pilgrim’s Pride immigration raid. Her story illustrates firsthand how intersectionality theory can serve as a lens to examine how different legal and social constructs contribute to women’s subordination. The third section examines intersectionality theory’s applicability to immigration law. This section presents a detailed analysis of how ethnicity, immigration status, gender, and class intersect to subordinate indigenous Guatemalan women. The last section addresses how intersectionality theory can be used to dissolve the multiple layers of subordination within the immigration system. The goal is to critique the concept of citizenship that has been predicated upon exclusion of minorities, women and the poor and how the immigration system functions to perpetuate subordination within the system.

Suggested Citation

McKanders, Karla Mari, The Unspoken Voices of Indigenous Women in Immigration Raids (November 22, 2010). Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2010, University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 133, Available at SSRN: or

Karla Mari McKanders (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University, School of Law ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-322-3092 (Phone)

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