The importance of race, gender, and religion in naturalization adjudication in the United States

Emiyl Ryo and Reed Humphrey
Date of Publication: 
February, 2022
Source Organization: 

Based on data obtained in response to an FOIA request on naturalization applications adjudicated between 2014 and 2018, this study examines racial, ethnic, gender and religious disparities in denial rates for these applications. The numbers involved are significant, and the consequences of denial are serious. In 2015, for example, 9.4% of nonmilitary applications resulted in denial, impacting more than 75,000 individuals.  Before presenting their findings, the authors review the history of discriminatory processing of citizenship applications in American history. They point out that “race/ethnicity and gender have long served as enduring bases of exclusion for citizenship in the United States.” Although formal legal restrictions based on race/ethnicity, gender, and religion no longer govern eligibility for naturalization, the process is open to bias in a number of ways, e.g. through conscious or unconscious bias on the part of the government employee reviewing the application, or through discriminatory practices in policing and criminal justice which create disqualifying criminal records.  The authors find that “the odds of approval are consistently smaller for non-White and Hispanic applicants than White applicants.”  Although a 5% difference between Black applicants and White applicants may appear small, they argue, the number of people impacted by such a discrepancy is large enough to warrant concern.

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Ryo, Emiyl & Humphrey, R. (2022, February). The importance of race, gender, and religion in naturalization adjudication in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.