Recent changes in immigration policy and U.S. naturalization patterns

Naturalization bestows economic benefits to immigrants, their families, and communities through greater access to employment opportunities, higher earnings, and homeownership. It is the cornerstone of immigrant assimilation in the United States. Yet, less than 720,000 of the estimated 8.5 million legal permanent residents (LPRs) eligible to naturalize do so on a yearly basis. Using data from the 2008–2018 American Community Survey, we analyze how the expansion of interior immigration enforcement impacts the decision to naturalize. We find that the adoption over an entire year of one enforcement initiative, or of two enforcement initiatives for half a year, raises the naturalization hazard by 2 percent. The effect is more pronounced among LPRs who are Mexican, women, or reside in non-mixed status households. Finally, the impact is driven by police-based, as opposed to employment-based, interior immigration enforcement. In sum, immigrants who naturalize in response to intensified enforcement may be doing so out of fear or uncertainty about their ability to secure their citizenship status and rights in a rapidly changing immigration policy environment increasingly hostile towards immigrants.

Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes and Mary Lopez, Recent changes in immigration policy and U.S. naturalization patterns, Review of Economics of the Household, 2020.