Family Matters: Modeling Naturalization Propensities in the United States

Despite the benefits of gaining citizenship, many eligible immigrants in the United States are not naturalizing. In this article, we examine factors that lead to naturalization in the United States, finding that immigrants’ pathways to citizenship are simultaneously shaped by individual characteristics, place-based attributes, and family dynamics. Of notable significance, and largely omitted from previous empirical work on naturalization, we find that having a naturalized spouse prior to one’s own naturalization is associated with a higher probability of naturalization, whereas being married to an undocumented immigrant reduces the probability of naturalization. Similarly, having a naturalized adult in the family other than a spouse improves the odds of naturalization, but having an undocumented family member other than a spouse reduces the odds. These findings suggest that while eligible immigrants with naturalized family members are more likely to improve their access to naturalization through pooled resources and increased information sharing, eligible immigrants with undocumented family members are more likely to avoid the naturalization process entirely, likely due to chilling effects from immigrant enforcement and policies that target close ties with liminal legality. These findings suggest that immigrants’ access to citizenship could be improved by (1) reaching immigrants who are the first in their families to naturalize and (2) improving the context of reception for undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families. More broadly, while individual factors play a role in naturalization, complex contextual factors, including place and family, shape immigrants’ pathways to citizenship and provide opportunities for new policies to promote immigrant integration.

Thai V. Le and Manuel Pastor, Family Matters: Modeling Naturalization Propensities in the United States, International Migration Review, 2022.