"Under the Radar": Undocumented Immigrants, Christian Faith Communities, and the Precarious Spaces of Welcome in the U.S. South

Patricia Ehrkamp, Caroline Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


This article examines the limits of welcome that Christian communities of faith in the U.S. South extend to recent immigrants. We argue that churches are political spaces in which pastors and lay members weigh faith-based conceptions of hospitality against law-and-order discourses and in which notions of universal membership confront racialized immigration politics. Drawing on sixty interviews with pastors and lay ministers in thirty-five churches in Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; and Charlotte, North Carolina, we show how hospitality within individual churches often operates quietly, "under the radar," producing a politics of invisibility. This invisibility, although providing some shelter from harsh law enforcement practices, does little to fundamentally alter the precarious situation of immigrants. We show that as Christian ethics of hospitality come up against worldly social boundaries of race and legal status, the actual practice of hospitality in these churches falls short of biblical ideals. Our analysis furthers understandings of political and faith-based membership and the dynamic articulations between them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-328
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF; BCS-1021907 and BCS-1021666). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. We thank our research participants for sharing their insights, and Catherine Cottrell, Rebecca Lane, and Derek Ruez for their research assistance.


  • belonging
  • evangelical Christianity
  • hospitality
  • immigration
  • places of worship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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