Making Citizenship an Organizing Principle of the US Immigration System

Donald Kerwin, Robert Warren and Charles Wheeler
Date of Publication: 
June, 2021
Source Organization: 
Center for Migration Studies

This paper proposes that the United States treat naturalization not as the culmination of a long and uncertain individual process, but as an organizing principle of the US immigration system and its expectation for new Americans. The authors examine two main ways that the Biden-Harris administration’s immigration agenda can be realized – by expanding access to permanent residence and by increasing naturalization numbers and rates. First, the paper proposes administrative and, to a lesser degree, legislative measures that would expand the pool of eligible-to-naturalize immigrants. Second, it identifies three underlying factors – financial resources, English language proficiency, and education – that strongly influence naturalization rates. It argues that these factors must be addressed, in large part, outside of and prior to the naturalization process. In addition, it provides detailed estimates of populations with large eligible-to-naturalize numbers, populations that naturalize at low rates, and populations with increasing naturalization rates. It argues that the administration’s immigration strategy should prioritize all three groups for naturalization.


Kerwin, D., Warren, R., & Wheeler, C. (2021, June 2). Making Citizenship an Organizing Principle of the US Immigration System: An Analysis of How and Why to Broaden Access to Permanent Residence and Naturalization for New Americans. Center for Migration Studies.