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The Undocumented Closet

75 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2013 Last revised: 17 Dec 2013

Rose Cuison Villazor

University of California, Davis

Date Written: October 27, 2013


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. Drawing on scholarship examining the “closet” as the symbol for the oppression of LGBTQ persons, this Article theorizes the “undocumented closet” and argues that this analytical framework facilitates a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of undocumented immigrants in the United States. First, the “undocumented closet” reveals the extent to which immigration and other laws that are designed to exclude unauthorized immigrants both literally and figuratively from the United States have compelled them to become invisible in society. Second, the “undocumented closet” framework underscores that public disclosures about one’s undocumented status, despite the risk of deportation, constitute acts of resistance against legal subordination and, importantly, claims for legal membership in the American polity. Finally, the “undocumented closet” facilitates a critical lens for reviewing immigration reform. Importantly, it calls for a rethinking of immigration law that would prevent the further “closeting” and subordination of immigrants and their families.

Suggested Citation

Villazor, Rose Cuison, The Undocumented Closet (October 27, 2013). North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 1, 2013; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 357. Available at SSRN:

Rose Cuison Villazor (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

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