Impeding or Accelerating Assimilation?: Immigration Enforcement and Its Impact on Naturalization Patterns

Mary J. Lopez & Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes
Date of Publication: 
July, 2019
Source Organization: 

The decision to become a citizen is influenced by many factors including cost, personal circumstances, and immigration policy. One of the policies that has changed in recent years is increased interior immigration enforcement. In this report, researchers at the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration in the Department of Economics at University College London used the American Community Survey and local and state-level data on immigration enforcement to determine whether this particular policy has aided or impeded the naturalization of eligible legal permanent residents (LPRs). In 2016, about 8.8 million LPRs were eligible to naturalize, but only 716,457 individuals a year on average applied for citizenship. Citizenship offers stability, freedom from deportation, economic benefits and social connection to the U.S. as well as the right to vote, access to government benefits and ability to provide visa sponsorship for immediate family members. Using a multiple regression model to analyze the impact that institutional factors such as the prevalence of immigration enforcement in the area have upon naturalization rates, the authors find that enforcement increases LPRs’ propensity to naturalize and accelerates their naturalization, possibly in response to increased uncertainty about future immigration policy. However, the study also finds that eligible-to-naturalize immigrants living in mixed-status households with at least one undocumented member, of which there are 2.6 million, are less likely to naturalize (or more likely to delay their status adjustment), possibly out of fear of contact with immigration officials. The authors find this impact of increased enforcement especially worrisome, as these individuals are predominantly Hispanic and tend to fall on the lower end of the economic scale. 

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Lopez, M. J. & Amuedo-Dorantes, C. (2019). Impeding or Accelerating Assimilation?: Immigration Enforcement and Its Impact on Naturalization Patterns [Working paper 2019.010]. The Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. Retrieved from