Menjivar's research focuses on the effects of legal systems, bureaucracies, and institutions on the lives of immigrants in the United States (Central American immigrants in particular) and women experiencing gender-based violence in Central America. Overarching themes in Menjivar's writings include the effects of immigration laws and enforcement strategies on immigrant families, women, children, etc; effects of legal status (especially temporary, uncertain) on immigrants' lives; effects of state institutions (e.g., deficiencies, inattention, corruption) on gender-based violence in women's lives in Central America. Menjivar works with community organizations advocating for immigrants' rights and with lawyers (especially those doing pro bono work, in community organizations, networks of lawyers, or law clinics) who work on cases of Central American women seeking asylum.
Explores the effects of ramped up immigration enforcement after January 2017 on Guatemalan immigrants as well as on the non-immigrant population in one rural town in Kansas. Finds that everyone, immigrants and non-immigrant town residents, are affected, with varying levels of intensity and in different ways, by immigration enforcement and media depictions of immigrants
Examines experiences of unaccompanied migrant children in the United States and Europe, highlighting what challenges these minors face, the resources they arrive with and what they encounter upon arrival.
Captures the economic, social, and emotional effects of deportations (for the deportees, their families and communities) to Honduras. Finds that Hondurans represent a group particularly singled out by U.S immigration enforcement. Notes the effects of deportations to Honduras go far and wide.
Compares how immigration enforcement affects Latinos/as' reporting crime to police in four U.S. cities. Finds there is a 'spillover effect' that affects all Latinos/as, even those with legal status or even U.S. citizenship, but distinct variation exist across the four contexts.
Examines experiences of Latina immigrants (mostly Central American women) in U.S. detention facilities. Finds that conditions are very much prison-like, even as the institution uses infantilized language and 'softer' terms that evoke family, motherhood, and the care of children.
Examines the legal, criminal justice, and social context in Guatemala for women and families seeking justice for the killings of women. Finds that legal tolls are imposed on victims' families, which contribute to impunity and undermine attempts to navigate the Guatemalan justice system.