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Undocumented immigrants currently make up more than 5% of the U.S. labor force and 7% of school-age children. Numbering over eleven million, undocumented immigrants unquestionably comprise a significant segment of the population, yet most lack financial security and stability on multiple fronts. In addition to the everyday risk of deportation, many risk being taken advantage of on the basis of their immigration status, in both employment and debtor–creditor relationships. While some of these financial conditions are well chronicled, this Article describes the first empirical study of the debtor–creditor relationships of undocumented immigrants. Through live interviews of undocumented immigrants in New Mexico, this Article recounts the general financial impediments some undocumented immigrants face in trying to work, pay taxes, raise children, participate in the U.S. economy, and simply survive. Among other topics, this Article explores whether undocumented immigrants use traditional financial institutions or more informal ones, and whether predatory lenders such as payday and title lenders have made inroads into immigrant communities. It further explores study participants’ perceptions of and attitudes toward various forms of credit, with the hope of using this sample to gain more generalized insights into the credit uses and attitudes of undocumented Americans as a whole in today’s consumer credit economy. Through this study, some of the grim realities of living in the financial shadows became clearer. Most of our participants had only precarious means of financial support, were distanced from social safety networks at home, at an obvious legal disadvantage, and without a place at any policy-related table. Indeed, we conclude that the financial condition of many undocumented immigrants is far more precarious than one might imagine, as shown through our data that 74% of the persons interviewed would not be able to cover a $100 emergency if it came up. Many in this study also had a fear of and disdain for credit, demonstrating sensible ideas about credit, which many of us in the mainstream population could learn from.

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Michigan State Law Review



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