The Undocumented Americans

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio


A New York Times best book of 2020

One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans.

Right after the election of 2016, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants – and to find the hidden key to her own.

In her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. She finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers.

The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival.

Shortlisted for a National Book Award, a National Book Critics’ Circle Award and an L.A. Times Book Prize


ISBN: 9781800750395

Published: June 3, 2021


ISBN: 9781800750401

Published: March 8, 2021


Reviews for The Undocumented Americans

‘An intimate look at the lives of the so-called undocumented in the United States, and also a milestone of literary journalism’ – Dave Eggers

‘It remains rare for undocumented Americans to share their own stories in full. In this nearly decade-long feat of reporting, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s book shows the complex nature of undocumented immigrants’ lives’ –Time

‘There’s nothing to do but sit down and read this book. Inside it, I feel deep in being, immersed in a frankness and a swerving bright and revelatory funkiness I’ve not encountered ever before concerning the collective daily life of an undocumented family in America’ – Eileen Myles

‘This is the book we’ve been waiting for. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio writes about migrants in a way they’ve never been written about before – in all their complexity, messiness, humanity, and beauty. Deeply personal and so superbly told, this is a work we will be talking about for a long time to come’ – Roberto G. Gonzales, author of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America


Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio has written about immigration, music, beauty, and mental illness for the New York Times, the Atlantic, the New Republic, Glamour, Elle, Vogue, n+1 and the New Inquiry, among others. She lives in New Haven with her partner and their dog.