The integration of immigrants and their descendants plays out in both the civic and political life of the country. Becoming a U.S. citizen, voting, participating in a parent-teacher association, or volunteering at a local food bank can all be seen as markers of integration. Such activities also serve as way-stations to further integration and engagement in U.S. society and politics. Although naturalization is necessary for voting in almost all parts of the United States, acquiring citizenship does not guarantee political participation. Conversely, noncitizens can be engaged in their communities, for example, by participating in a parent-teacher association. Civic and political integration can occur together, or in distinct steps. Naturalization might spur new Americans to join a local town hall meeting, while an immigrant’s prior participation in a religious faith community may provide the encouragement and assistance necessary to acquire U.S. citizenship or register to vote.
In this chapter, the panel summarizes the state of social science knowledge on (1) naturalization and citizenship; (2) political engagement (from voting and electoral participation to contacting officials or participating in peaceful protest); and (3) civic integration beyond formal politics (such as volunteering and participation in community-based organizations), including engagement in a globalized world.
Civic and political integration must be understood at three levels. First, integration involves individual actions and beliefs, such as whether an immigrant naturalizes, joins a community group, or votes. The degree of integration, or variations in integration among individuals, is often linked to individuals’ attributes, such as level of education, an immigrant’s abil-
ity to speak English, or the length of time they have spent in the United States. One important conclusion from available research is that despite a democratic ideal of equal participation, data on naturalization and voting suggest a divide in civic and political integration, with low-income immigrants who have modest education facing significant barriers to citizenship and participation.
At the same time, individual factors are only part of the story. The depth and breadth of civil society constitute a second marker of integration and can spur or hinder engagement. Immigrants’ integration is affected by the degree to which community groups, political parties, religious institutions, and a host of other groups reach out to immigrants, as well as immigrants’ capacity to create their own groups to develop civic skills, learn about current events, mobilize for common goals, and find community together. The majority of immigrants’ organizational engagements are oriented to activities in the United States, from soccer clubs and cultural troupes to professional associations and advocacy organizations, but they also include transnational groups, such as home town associations that send development money back to places of origin. At a third level of analysis, civic integration is affected by the extent to which the political and civic institutions of the United States influence who becomes engaged and who remains on the sidelines of the nation’s civic and political life. This perspective suggests that barriers to and inequalities in civic and political integration can be mitigated by partnerships among the voluntary sector, civil society, community-based organizations, the business sector, and government.
Most people in the United States acquire U.S. citizenship at birth by being born in the country or born to American parents living in a foreign country. In 2013, about 273 million of the almost 314 million U.S. residents (87%) were native-born citizens, a figure that includes 2.6 million people born abroad to American parents and 1.8 million people born in Puerto Rico or a U.S. territory.1 The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the birthright of citizenship to almost everyone born in one of the 50 states, regardless of parents’ legal status.2 Congressional legislation determines citizenship for those born in U.S. territories or born
1 These figures are from the 2013 3-year estimates from the American Community Survey.
2 The relevant section of the Fourteenth Amendment reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” In 1884, the Supreme Court, in Elk v. Wilson, 112 U.S. 94, focused on “subject to the jurisdiction,” and held that children born to members of Indian tribes governed by tribal legal systems were not U.S. citizens. In 1924, the Congress extended citizenship to all American Indians by passing the Indian Citizenship Act, 43 Stat.
to U.S.-citizen parents abroad.3 Birthright citizenship is one of the most powerful mechanisms of formal political and civic inclusion in the United States; without it, the citizenship status of 37.1 million second generation Americans living in the country (about 12% of the country’s population), and perhaps many millions more in the third and higher generations, would be up for debate.4
Immigrants can acquire U.S. citizenship through the legal process of naturalization. The U.S. Constitution assigns power over naturalization to the federal Congress.5 For much of the 19th century, the requirements for naturalization were simple: adult immigrants generally needed five years of residence, proof of good moral character, and a willingness to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States.6 At the same time, the 1790 Naturalization Act specified that only a “free white person” was eligible for naturalization. In 1846, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ending the war between the United States and Mexico clearly specified that all Mexicans residing in the conquered territories would be considered U.S. citizens. Consequently, immigrants from Latin America were considered “white” for purposes of immigration and citizenship. The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended naturalization to “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” Immigrants of Asian origins remained barred from naturalization, both through legislation such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and through a series of court cases that determined Asians were not “white” under the law. The Supreme Court’s 1898 U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark
253, Ch. 233. Currently, those born within the 50 states who are deemed outside U.S. jurisdiction are primarily the children born here to foreign diplomats.
3 Congress made Hawaiians eligible for citizenship in 1900, Puerto Ricans in 1917, and inhabitants of the Virgin Islands in 1927. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, with subsequent amendments, determines the citizenship of children born to U.S. citizens abroad.
4 Automatic birthright citizenship is prevalent in the Western hemisphere from Canada through the Caribbean and Latin America, but it is highly contested and more limited in Europe. See the EUDO Citizenship legal database at http://eudo-citizenship.eu/databases/modes-of-acquisition [March 2015].
5 The U.S. Constitution of 1878 empowered the federal government to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization” (Article 1, Section 8).
6 The 1790 Naturalization Act set a residency requirement of two years, which was raised to 14 years in 1798. An 1802 law mandated a minimum of 5 years of residence in the United States; this 5-year requirement remains to the present, with some exceptions.
(169 U.S. 649) decision did, however, uphold the birthright citizenship of children born in the United States to Asian immigrant parents ineligible for naturalization. Race-based restrictions on some Asian immigrants’ ability to acquire U.S. citizenship through naturalization started to fall during World War II. The 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act definitely eliminated all race criteria for naturalization.
Latinos’ social status as “nonwhite” also mattered in acquiring citizenship in the early 20th century. Legally, Mexicans were eligible for citizenship through naturalization. Unlike European immigrants, however, their eligibility was a product of foreign relations and treaties rather than any common acceptance of their “whiteness” (Fox, 2012). In fact, in 1930, only 9 percent of Mexican men living in the United States had naturalized, compared to 60 percent of southern and eastern Europeans and 80 percent of northern and western Europeans. A statistical analysis of 1930 census data found that a substantial proportion of the gap between Mexican and European naturalization levels was likely related to discrimination, net of differences in literacy, English ability, veteran status, or proximity to the homeland (Fox and Bloemraad, 2015).
Since the category of “undocumented” immigrant did not yet exist in this period, any male white immigrant was eligible for naturalization. Women’s status was more complicated. The law did not limit eligibility by sex, but not all courts honored women’s right to petition for citizenship. Women’s citizenship was also often tied to their marital status and the citizenship of their husband.7 Because the federal government only established administrative control over naturalization in 1906, there are no reliable data on the exact number of naturalizations during the 19th century, but the figure can be inferred to be in the millions. For example, in 1900 the U.S. Census reported that, just among the adult male population (21 years and older), more than 2.8 million of the 5 million foreign-born men held U.S. citizenship through naturalization (Gibson and Jung, 2006, p. 58).
From 1907 to 2000, 18.1 million people acquired U.S. citizenship through naturalization (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2002, p. 202). An important point is that when parents naturalize, their underage foreign-born children also acquire “derivative” citizenship through their parents. This fine point of law has generated hundreds of thousands of new U.S. citizens not counted in naturalization statistics.8
7 At some historical moments, women automatically became citizens upon their marriage to a U.S. citizen or upon their husband’s naturalization. This “derivative citizenship” was not possible if a woman’s husband was racially ineligible for naturalization; and at some point in time, American women lost their U.S. citizenship upon marriage to a noncitizen (Smith, 1998).
8 The regulations determining derivative citizenship have changed over time. See http://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/PDF/NationalityChart3.pdf [October 2015]. For children born on or after February 27, 2001, any child living in the United States in the legal and physical custody
Naturalization requirements have changed little since the 1952 Immigration Act, although the civics test underwent revisions in 2008 and the fee that would-be citizens must pay has increased substantially, from $95 in 1996 to $680 in 2015.9 In 2013, 18.7 million immigrants, or 46 percent of the almost 40 million foreign-born residents living in the United States, had acquired U.S. citizenship through naturalization. This amounts to just under 6 percent of the U.S. population. Noncitizens, at over 22 million residents, constitute 7.1 percent of the U.S. population.10
The proportions of naturalized citizens and noncitizens in the population today almost exactly mirror the percentages in 1920, as shown in Figure 4-1, although the number of immigrants is much higher now. After
of a citizen parent currently derives citizenship from their parent if they are under the age of 18. An accurate count of these new child citizens is difficult to determine since the form filed for derivative citizenship, the N-600, is the same one filed by U.S.-citizen parents living abroad who seek proof of citizenship for their children. Some parents also never seek a Certificate of Citizenship but acquire passports for their children by showing their child’s foreign birth certificate and the parent’s naturalization certificate. Over the 10-year period from 2004 to 2013, USCIS received 602,943 N-600 applications. (Personal communication to the panel from Delancey Gustin, August 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Service.)
9 The current fee (2015) is $595 for filing the N-400 form plus $85 for capturing required biometric data.
10 These figures are from the 2013 3-year estimates from the American Community Survey.
immigration was curtailed in the 1920s and as the foreign-born population aged, the level of citizenship among the immigrant population increased, but the share of naturalized citizens and noncitizens in the general population declined. With the resumption of large-scale migration after 1965, citizenship levels among foreign-born residents dropped precipitously as newcomers flowed into the country, from 64 percent of all foreign-born in 1970 to 40 percent in 2000 (see Figures 4-1 and 4-2). Because citizenship levels are often calculated as the number of naturalized citizens among the total foreign-born population, some of the apparent decline in the fraction of foreign-born who are naturalized—though far from all of the decline—is due to an increase in the number of undocumented and temporary immigrants, groups that are barred from naturalization.
Some observers note a decline in the importance of citizenship within a more global world (Jacobson, 1996; Schuck, 1998; Soysal, 1994; Spiro, 2010), which might reduce immigrants’ interest in naturalization. Yet the advantages of U.S. citizenship remain significant and have arguably increased over the last 20 years, making it doubtful that this factor fully ex-
plains declines in naturalization over time. The benefits of U.S. citizenship include protection from deportation, broader rights in the judicial system, greater access to social benefits, the ability to sponsor immigrant parents or minor children to the United States outside the annual immigration quotas, greater access to educational loans and scholarships, the ability to travel with a U.S. passport, more favorable tax treatment for estate taxes, and the ability to vote and run for office. Another benefit is eligibility for certain jobs or occupations in government, the defense industry, and military that are barred to noncitizens. Research suggests that U.S. citizenship also improves employment outcomes, wage growth, and access to better jobs (Bratsberg et al., 2002; OECD, 2011; Mazzolari, 2009).11 Across a range of studies, the wage premium of citizenship, holding other personal attributes constant, was estimated to be at least 5 percent (Sumpton and Flamm, 2012). Conversely, even if an immigrant is not a U.S. citizen, he or she is still obligated to pay taxes, obey all U.S. laws and, historically, noncitizens have been drafted into the U.S. military. Considering the advantages and the United States’ long history as a nation of immigrants, the declining level of citizenship acquisition is surprising.
There is, however, evidence of a recent uptick in the level of citizenship. Estimates by the Office of Immigration Statistics of the immigrant population eligible for naturalization—adjusting for those who are not legal permanent residents or who have not met the 5-year residency requirement—suggest that in 2002, 50 percent of eligible immigrants held U.S. citizenship, while in 2012, the proportion had risen to 58 percent (see Figure 4-3). Some observers explain this increase as “defensive” or “protective” naturalization undertaken by immigrants worried about legislative changes that target noncitizens (Aptekar, 2015; Gilbertson and Singer, 2003; Massey and Pren, 2012; Nam and Kim, 2012). This effect might be especially dramatic among Latino immigrants, particularly as community-based and advocacy groups mobilize in the face of perceived anti-immigrant legislation (Cort 2012). From 2000 through 2009, over 6.8 million immigrants became U.S. citizens, and from 2010 through 2013, naturalizations averaged 713,000 per year.12 Of course, these numbers do not include new citizens’ foreign-born minor children, who automatically derive U.S. citizenship upon their parents’ naturalization.
Despite the increase in naturalization since 2000, the level of citizenship in the United States—the proportion of naturalized citizens among
11Bratsberg and colleagues (2002) studied young male immigrants and found that following naturalization, these new U.S. citizens gain greater access to public-sector, white-collar, and union jobs, which helps accelerate wage growth.
12 These data are from the 2013 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 20, Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. See http://www.dhs.gov/publication/yearbook-immigration-statistics-2013-naturalizations [October 2015].
the immigrant population—remains much lower than in some other major immigrant-receiving countries. The overall level of citizenship among working-age immigrants (15-64 years old) living in the United States for at least 10 years is, at 50 percent, below the average across 15 OECD countries, which stands at 61 percent (OECD, 2011, p. 28). After adjustments to account for the undocumented population, a group with very limited pathways to citizenship, naturalization among U.S. immigrants rises to slightly above the OECD average. Nevertheless, it still stands far below European countries such as the Netherlands (78%) and Sweden (82%), and much lower than traditional countries of immigration such as Australia (81%) and Canada (89%) (OECD, 2011, pp. 27-28). Cross-national differences in naturalization levels are in part due to compositional differences between countries based on variation in immigrants’ origins, time in country, human capital, and migration status (Bloemraad, 2006a; Picot and Hou, 2011; OECD, 2011), as well as differences in citizenship laws, regulations, and bureaucratic cultures (Vink et al., 2013; Dronkers and Vink, 2012; Janoski, 2010). There is also some limited evidence that broader public policies related to multiculturalism and public-private partnerships around immigrant integration lead to higher levels of citizenship among immigrants, even after holding immigrants’ characteristics and naturalization
policy constant (Bloemraad, 2006b). The United States has relatively open citizenship policies, and even controlling for immigrants’ characteristics, the level of naturalization in the United States appears to sit in the middle of the pack for highly developed, immigrant-receiving countries.
Who Naturalizes and Why?
When asked, the vast majority of immigrant respondents to surveys say that they want to naturalize. Two national surveys of Hispanic immigrants found that more than 9 in 10 noncitizen Latinos would want to naturalize if they could (Gonzalez-Barrera et al., 2013; Pantoja and Gershon, 2006). A survey of immigrant women born in Latin American, Asian, African, and Arab countries found that 84 percent of respondents wanted to be a U.S. citizen rather than remaining a citizen of their home country (New America Media, 2009, p. 31). Reasons for not naturalizing ranged from language, financial, and administrative barriers to not having had the time to apply or not understanding the application process. Of those who did apply for citizenship over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2013, 12 percent of applicants were denied, a percentage that is half of the 24 percent denied from 1990 to 2003 but still five or six times higher than denials in the 1970s and 1980s.13 Gender also plays a role in naturalization. Women are more likely to naturalize than men (Ruiz et al., 2015), may have different motivations for naturalizing (Pantoja and Gershon, 2006), and experience the naturalization process differently (Salcido and Menjívar, 2012; Singer and Gilberston, 2003); all these factors contribute to gender differences in naturalization. Immigrants’ previous statuses also influence their decisions: previous experience with undocumented status appears to be a motivating factor for immigrants’ intention to stay in the United States, while immigrants who come to the United States on employment visas are the least likely to express an intention to stay (Jasso, 2011). Overall, moderate levels of naturalization in the United States appear to stem not from immigrants’ lack of interest or even primarily from the bureaucratic process of applying for citizenship. Instead the obstacle to naturalization lies somewhere in the process by which individuals translate their motivation to naturalize into action, and research has so far failed to clearly identify this obstacle.
One of the strongest predictors of citizenship acquisition is time spent
13 The data presented here are based on adjusted data on petition denials (data provided by personal communication to the panel by Michael Hoefner, August 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service). This differs somewhat from published data (Table 20 of the 2013 Yearbook). Although historical calculations are tricky because what counts as a naturalization petition “denial” has changed over time, based on the available data it appears that petition denials climbed significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s and declined slightly in the past 5 years.
in the United States: the longer immigrants reside in the country, the more likely they are to become naturalized citizens (Bloemraad, 2006b). One reason is the requirement to prove 5 years of residence as an LPR before being allowed to naturalize.14 On average, however, immigrants wait longer than 5 years before filing N-400 forms. In 2013, the median new citizen had held LPR status for 7 years, a bit longer than the 6-year median in 2008 and 2009 but shorter than the 9 years of LPR status for immigrants naturalizing in 1995 or 2000 (Lee and Foreman, 2014). Median years in LPR status does not, however, capture the length of stay among noncitizens, which can range from less than a year to decades. Other data hint that long-time noncitizens are naturalizing at increasing rates. In 2002, only 46.5 percent of immigrants eligible for citizenship who had lived in the United States for at least 12 years were naturalized citizens; in 2012, the level of citizenship among these long-term residents had increased to 58 percent.15
Length of residency also captures other integration processes. Over time, immigrants with limited English might improve their language skills sufficiently to feel confident about applying for citizenship. Some migrants who initially saw their move to the United States as temporary put down roots, have families, buy homes, and get settled, increasing their interest in naturalization. Immigrants provide myriad reasons for acquiring U.S. citizenship, including the desire to secure civil and legal rights, to travel on a U.S. passport, to access social benefits or economic opportunities, or to sponsor overseas family members to come to the United States (Aptekar, 2015; Bloemraad, 2006b; Gilbertson and Singer, 2003; Gonzalez-Barrera et al., 2013; New American Media, 2009). Although the evidence on political participation is mixed (e.g., New American Media, 2009, p. 32), some research suggests that stressing the importance of voting, civic engagement, and being politically informed could increase naturalization (Pantoja and Gershon, 2006).16 Immigrants also naturalize to reflect a sense of American identity, a feeling of being at home or the belief that it is just “the right thing to do,” even if they also retain, in many cases, a strong attachment to their homeland or national origin identity (Aptekar, 2015; Bloemraad, 2006a; Brettel, 2006).
14 There are some exceptions to the 5-year minimum residency requirement for those in the military, and for the spouses of U.S. citizens. In the latter case, the minimum residency requirement is reduced to 3 years.
16 Other studies have found a higher percentage of immigrants listing the right to vote as a major reason to acquire citizenship. Almost 7 in 10 naturalized U.S. citizens in a random-digit telephone survey in the Dallas-Fort Worth area mentioned voting as among the “major” reasons they naturalized (Brettell, 2006, p. 83), and in a nonprobability sample of immigrants exiting a USCIS office, 46 percent cited the right to vote (Aptekar, 2015, p. 69).
Diverging Integration Pathways? Barriers to Naturalization
Some observers wonder whether rising naturalization fees are hurting immigrants’ integration as they are priced out of citizenship (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., 2007; Pastor et al., 2013; Emanuel and Gutierrez, 2013). In 1994, the cost of filing an N-400 form was $95. The fee rose to $225 in 1999, $320 in 2004, and $595 in 2007.17 This fee does not include a mandatory biometric fee of $85. Fee increases reflect congressional intent that immigration services be cost-neutral to taxpayers; immigrants’ filing fees are supposed to cover administrative costs. In 2010, the U.S. naturalization fee was the sixth most expensive of 34 countries across Europe, Australia, and Canada; the median fee in these countries was about $220 (Goodman, 2010, p. 24; Bogdan, 2012).18 Surveys of Latino immigrants eligible for citizenship found that about one-fifth cite cost as a primary reason that they had not filed a naturalization application (Freeman et al., 2002; Gonzalez-Barrera et al., 2013).
A cursory glance at citizenship trends does not suggest a negative relationship between cost increases and naturalization. As noted above, the aggregate citizenship level in the United States has been rising over the last 15 years, albeit modestly (Haddal, 2007; Kandel and Haddal, 2010; Figure 4-3). However, there is clear evidence of “bumps” in N-400 filings shortly before announced fee increases, and some sensitivity to the relative cost of renewing LPR status (filing the I-90 form) versus the cost of naturalization.19 Immigrants likely have some “price sensitivity” to naturalization fees.20 In response to concerns about fees, the White House Task Force
17 USCIS adjusted its fee schedule at least 14 times between 1969 and 2007. Most were minor adjustments to reflect inflation. The 1998, 2004, and 2007 adjustments were significant increases beyond the inflation rate. In 2007, USCIS increased fees by an average of 88 percent for each immigration benefit (Haddal, 2007).
18 The median naturalization fee was about 163 Euros; this equaled US$ 222 based on the exchange rate in November 2010.
19 Lawful permanent residents must renew their “green cards” every 10 years by filing an I-90 form. From 1994 to 2007, the N-400 fee rose from $95 to $595, an increase of 626 percent; the fee for the I-90 rose from $75 to $290, or an increase of 387 percent (Pastor et al., 2013, p. 6). The difference was mitigated somewhat in 2011, when the I-90 fee rose to $365 but the N-400 filing fee remained stable.
20 Wait times in processing naturalization applications can also be a frustration, though there is no evidence that this poses a hard barrier to citizenship. In the mid-1990s, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was projecting 3-year wait periods to citizenship. In 2001, the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated backlogs of 21 months for would-be citizens (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2001, pp. 6, 23). Current processing times range from 5 months in places such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts, to 9 months in Santa Ana, California, and Atlanta, Georgia. Processing time information is from March 6, 2015, as posted on the USCIS website at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplayInit. do [October 2015].
on New Americans (2015) recently recommended that USCIS assess the potential for expanding its fee waiver program, as well as allowing naturalization applicants to pay fees with credit cards. However, the effects of these potential changes are not yet known.
Price sensitivity raises important questions over inequities in civic and political integration. The recent uptick in naturalization appears to hide a deepening divide in the path to citizenship, a path that is relatively smooth for more affluent, educated immigrants and a bumpy, obstacle-ridden road for those facing more significant personal and financial barriers.
Immigrants with less education, lower incomes, and poorer English skills are less likely to acquire U.S. citizenship (e.g., Aptekar, 2014; Bueker, 2006; Bloemraad, 2006b; Chiswick and Miller, 2008; Logan et al., 2012; Pantoja and Gershon, 2006). Currently, immigrants with an income below 150 percent of the poverty level or who have a qualified family member receiving means-tested benefits can ask for a fee waiver in filing the N-400 form.21 The panel made a formal request to USCIS for data on how many ask for and receive fee waivers, but USCIS was unable to provide the data. A recent analysis did find that while 32 percent of the population eligible to naturalize fell below this poverty threshold, poor immigrants only made up 26 percent of those who naturalized in 2011 and 2012 (Pastor et al., 2015, p. 7). In contrast, those with incomes two and a half times the poverty line or higher made up 53 percent of those recently naturalized, but only 45 percent of the pool of eligible immigrants. Thus, low or modest income might be a barrier to naturalization despite the fee waiver.
Differences become starker when it comes to education. Democratic equality is predicated on the idea that all citizens are equal, regardless of income or education. But limited education makes it less likely that an immigrant acquires U.S. citizenship. Language requirements tend to be a bigger barrier for those with less than a high school degree; government forms are complex and written in technical language; and those with less education often worry about passing the civics test (Bloemraad, 2006a; Gonzalez-Barrera et al., 2013). Although success rates for the English and civics test appear high—91 percent of those who took these tests in November 2014 passed—many immigrants with limited education and low English proficiency probably never reach the test stage because they are afraid to do so or the administrative process appears too daunting.22
22 USCIS publishes the national pass rate and average naturalization processing time on its webpage. See http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalization-test/applicant-performance-naturalization-test [March 2015]. Some observers have wondered whether the redesigned civics test, introduced in 2008, created higher barriers to citizenship acquisition. Analysis of pass rates among those who took the test in 2010 compared to two earlier groups shows greater success in 2010 (ICF International, 2011). While the analysis could not directly judge
Educational barriers might also be getting worse. One analysis, based on Decennial Census and American Community Survey data from 1970 to 2000, found that the educational penalty for those with less than a high school education, holding other naturalization determinants constant, increased between 1970 and 2000 (Aptekar, 2014, p. 350). In 1970, the probability that an immigrant with less than a high school degree held U.S. citizenship was 0.42; by 2000, this had plummeted to 0.18.23 The drop moderates after attempts to adjust for undocumented migration, but the trend remains: a naturalization probability of 0.45 in 1970 for someone with less than a high school education falls to 0.31 in 2000 (Aptekar, 2014, p. 352). Strikingly, over this period, citizenship levels in Canada increased regardless of educational background: the probability of becoming a Canadian citizen for an immigrant with less than a high school education was 0.43 in 1971; in 2001, it was 0.76 (Aptekar, 2014, p. 352). A different analysis, using more recent 2011 American Community Survey data, suggests a similar story of growing educational inequality. Immigrants in the United States with limited education—less than a high school education—became less likely to naturalize from 1996 to 2010; over this same period, those with high levels of education—a bachelor degree or beyond—became more likely to acquire citizenship (Pastor et al., 2013, p. 13; Logan et al., 2012).
It is not the case, however, that the immigrants most likely to become U.S. citizens are the rich and very highly educated. Foreign-born residents with 4-year college degrees and especially those with professional or advanced academic degrees are less likely to naturalize than foreign-born high school graduates or those with only an associate degree, holding other factors constant (Logan et al., 2012; Pastor et al., 2013). Immigrants from rich countries with high levels of political freedom and economic development are also less likely, all else considered, to naturalize (Bueker, 2006; Chiswick and Miller, 2008; Logan et al., 2012; OECD, 2011). It is possible, given significant educational resources and affluent, safe countries to which they can return, that the most privileged immigrants see fewer advantages in U.S. citizenship. A survey of a cohort of immigrants who received lawful permanent resident status in 2003 found that while 78 percent of the entire cohort intended to stay in the United States indefinitely, the percentage who were uncertain or did not foresee staying was the largest, at 34 percent,
if test success varied by applicants’ level of education, other demographics—by gender, age and region of origin—all showed higher pass rates in 2010. The analysis could not evaluate whether certain groups were less likely to file for citizenship given the redesigned test.
23 These predicted probabilities hold constant other potential determinants of naturalization, such as age, length of residence in the country, marital status, gender, and income.
among those gaining LPR status through employment pathways, a path dominated by the high-skilled.24
Conversely, among those most likely to naturalize are immigrants who serve in or are veterans of the U.S. military. According to Barry (2014), the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 gives the President authority to expedite naturalization for noncitizen service members. Residency periods, usually 5 years, can be cut to 3 years or even a day of active-duty service; in some cases, citizenship is bestowed posthumously to a service member killed in the line of duty. Physical presence requirements can be a roadblock to naturalization for those serving overseas, but especially during times of conflict, application fees have been waived and special processing centers set up at military installations. This was the case during World War I and more recently during conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barry (2014) notes that during World War I, over 500,000 immigrants were drafted into military service and more than 192,000 immigrants acquired citizenship through military service, accounting for over half of all naturalizations during the period. Analysis of census data from 1930 confirms that veteran status was a significant predictor of men’s naturalization, even controlling for personal resources and country of origin (Fox and Bloemraad, 2015). This predictive power for veteran status appears to be continuing. An analysis of 1980 Decennial Census data underscored the significant influence of veteran status on citizenship acquisition (Yang, 1994); more recent research estimated that veteran status is associated with a 13 percentage point increase in the probability of naturalization among men and an 8 percentage point increase for women (Chiswick and Miller, 2008, p. 116). In the 75 years from 1939 through 2013, 424,315 members of the U.S. armed forces became U.S. citizens (1.9% of all successful naturalizations).25 Between September 2002 and May 2013, 89,095 noncitizens serving in U.S. armed forces naturalized, with 10,719 naturalizations occurring at USCIS citizenship ceremonies in 28 countries, including Afghanistan, Djibouti, El Salvador, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, and South Korea (Barry, 2014).26
24 Calculated from data provided by Guillermina Jasso in personal communication to the panel, March 2015.
25 Panel’s calculation from data reported in the 2013 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 20, Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. See http://www.dhs.gov/publication/yearbook-immigration-statistics-2013-naturalizations [October 2015].
National Origins and Global Changes Around Multiple Citizenship
Of all immigrants who acquired citizenship in 2013, the largest group, almost 100,000 people out of 780,000 successful applicants, were born in Mexico (Lee and Foreman, 2014). Not surprisingly, other countries among the top five from which new citizens originate are also among the largest sources of migration to the United States: India, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and the People’s Republic of China. However, their relative share of immigrants in the pool eligible to naturalize does not necessarily reflect that country’s share of immigrants who acquire U.S. citizenship. For 2011, the Office of Immigration Statistics estimated that 31.1 percent of all LPRs eligible for naturalization were born in Mexico. But data on successful naturalization applications indicate that only 13.7 percent of immigrants receiving U.S. citizenship in 2011 were Mexican born.27 Relative to their share of the eligible LPR population, immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala were also less likely to naturalize, as were immigrants from Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Conversely, as Figure 4-4 shows, the proportion of new American citizens from India,
Colombia, and Pakistan was more than twice each country’s proportion in the pool of eligible LPRs in 2011. For example, those born in India were 2.8 percent of all eligible LPRs, but the Indian-born made up 6.6 percent of all newly naturalized Americans in 2011.
These differences by country of origin are explained in part by factors discussed earlier. Immigrants from certain countries are more likely to have modest levels of education, which depresses the rate of naturalization, while nationals of wealthy, stable democracies such as Japan and the United Kingdom might see fewer benefits to acquiring U.S. citizenship. Proximity to the United States and a concomitant belief that an immigrant will return to his or her home country probably also play a role: those born in Canada and Mexico have, over the past 35 years, consistently had low levels of naturalization and among the longest median wait times between acquiring LPR status and acquiring U.S. citizenship. In contrast, migrants who arrive as refugees are more likely to naturalize (Fix et al., 2003; Woodrow-Lafield et al., 2004). Research suggests that they are more likely to appreciate the security of U.S. citizenship, more likely to be escaping desperate conditions in their country of origin, and more likely to feel a strong sense of gratitude or attachment to the country that gave them refuge (Bloemraad, 2006a; Portes and Curtis, 1987). Legal status also plays a role because immigrants who are undocumented or present with various temporary statuses are barred from applying for LPR and therefore naturalizing—a barrier that affects a greater proportion of immigrants from Latin America than from other regions (see Chapter 3).
The citizenship laws of immigrants’ homelands also affect naturalization in the United States. Countries around the world increasingly allow nationals who migrate and seek another citizenship to hold dual or multiple nationalities. Legal changes permitting dual citizenship appear to increase immigrants’ propensity to naturalize (Chiswick and Miller, 2008; Jones-Correa, 2001a; Mazzolari, 2009; Naujoks, 2012). Mazzolari (2009) estimated a 10 percentage point increase in the 1990s in naturalization among migrants from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Brazil when those countries changed their laws. Naujoks (2012) calculated a 2 to 13 percentage point increase in naturalization of immigrants from India following creation of the “Overseas Citizenship of India” status in 2005. Dual citizenship laws may also lead to racial differences in naturalization rates by increasing the probability of naturalization for Latino and Asian immigrants, but it might not do the same for non-Hispanic white or black immigrants, holding other factors constant (Logan et al., 2012). To the extent that naturalization promotes career gains and income benefits, home-country dual citizenship laws produce the largest increase in naturalization and employment success among more educated immigrants
(Mazzolari, 2009), perhaps because these immigrants can best leverage the benefits of transnational activities.
The U.S. recognizes but does not encourage multiple nationality. Immigrants who naturalize in the United States pledge, when swearing the Oath of Allegiance, to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”28 Through the early 1960s, the U.S. State Department could strip away the citizenship of an American who acquired another nationality. However, Supreme Court decisions have upheld the legality of multiple citizenships, and today the U.S. State Department explicitly advises that “U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another. . . . The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause.”29 Since people can acquire multiple nationalities in a variety of ways, including marriage to a foreign national, having a parent or grandparent of another nationality, or the birth country’s continued presumption of nationality even after acquisition of U.S. citizenship, many Americans, both immigrants and native-born, may legally hold multiple citizenships, even if they do not formally request multiple passports.
The Social and Civic Context of Naturalization
Academic research and policy attention have focused primarily on how the rules and regulations of naturalization, such as the filing fee or civics and language tests, affect immigrants’ interest in and ability to acquire citizenship, or how personal factors, such as limited formal education, might make it more difficult for some immigrants to become citizens than others. Missing from these accounts is the important role played by family and friends; the immigrant community; nonprofit organizations; and other groups including for-profit businesses, employers, and unions in encouraging and helping immigrants become citizens and thereby fostering civic and political integration.
When asked to elaborate on their path to citizenship, immigrants—especially those who face the highest barriers to naturalization—often tell stories of how a child, family member, or local nonprofit organization helped them to study for the language or civics exam and how a community social service provider, a refugee resettlement agency or a for-profit
28 The full text of the oath can be found at http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalizationtest/naturalization-oath-allegiance-united-states-america [October 2015].
29 Full text available at http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english/legal-considerations/uscitizenship-laws-policies/citizenship-and-dual-nationality/dual-nationality.html [October 2015].
notario helped them to fill in paperwork (Bloemraad, 2006a; Plascencia, 2012). Consistent with such stories, statistical analyses of census data have found that a 1 percent increase in the share of co-ethnic immigrants who are naturalized in a metropolitan area increases an individual immigrant’s odds of naturalization by 2.5 percent (Logan et al., 2012, p. 548; see also Liang, 1994). In one targeted effort, the Open Society Institute received $50 million from philanthropist George Soros to facilitate citizenship, distributing grants through the Emma Lazarus Fund to organizations, such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Council of Jewish Federations, National Council of La Raza, and International Rescue Committee. The Open Society Institute estimated that within 2 years over half a million immigrants had been assisted in beginning the naturalization process (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., 2007, p. 106).
More recently, the New American Workforce initiative, through the National Immigration Forum, is working with businesses to assist their eligible immigrant employees with the citizenship process.30 This assistance continues a tradition from a century earlier, when major employers such as Bethlehem Steel and Ford Motor Company provided English-language classes to their immigrant workforce, a practice continued in the 21st century by some manufacturers, grocery stores, and hospitals, in partnership with local nonprofits or community colleges (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., 2007, p. 169; Schneider, 2011).
Civil society initiatives can be carried out by nonprofits, businesses, religious institutions, ethnic media, schools, or other organizations in partnership with multiple levels of government, from the local and county levels to state and federal government. Civil society initiatives might be particularly effective when done in partnership with government, as happens with refugee resettlement (Bloemraad, 2006a). A national study estimated that refugees are one and a half times more likely to become citizens than are eligible legal immigrants with similar socioeconomic and demographic characteristics (Fix et al., 2003, p. 6). In one case, the Office of Refugee Resettlement worked with Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., to help 5,385 refugees file naturalization applications (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., 2007, p. 111). Similar public-private partnerships—often but not always targeting refugees or elderly immigrants—have been spearheaded by state governments in Florida, Illinois, and Massachusetts.
Beyond the refugee community, federal leadership in U.S. citizenship promotion has only developed recently, and at a very modest level. Various observers, ranging from academics and nonprofit leaders to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, have underscored that the United States has no articulated or coordinated integration policy, including policy on citizen-
30 See http://immigrationforum.org/programs/new-american-workforce/ [June 2015].
ship promotion, but rather that federal involvement is characterized by a patchwork of policies, agencies, and actors and a largely laissez-faire orientation (e.g., Bloemraad and de Graauw, 2012; Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., 2007; U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2011). For instance, the White House Task Force on New Americans (2015) identified 58 immigrant integration programs administered by 10 different federal agencies in its recent report.
The Office of Citizenship, a branch of USCIS, was established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 with the mission “to engage and support partners to welcome immigrants, promote English language learning and education on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and encourage U.S. citizenship.” A 2007 analysis concluded that with a budget of $3 million, the Office of Citizenship had produced useful informational products (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., 2007, p. 128), but given a budget equivalent to what the state of Illinois spent that year on citizenship promotion, such educational activities were inadequate to a task that spans the entire nation. The recent report from the White House Task Force on New Americans (2015) recommends that USCIS explore additional opportunities to inform LPRs of their potential eligibility for naturalization, expand its citizenship outreach efforts, offer mobile services, and create online tools to assist naturalization preparation and application filing. It is unclear whether any additional funding will become available for these efforts.
In more recent years, federal support for naturalization through the Office of Citizenship remains anemic, and demand for these grants far outstrips the available funding. In fiscal 2009, for example, the program received 293 applications for $1.2 million in grants, with only 13 organizations funded. In 2011, 324 applications were received and 42 organizations were granted a total of $9 million (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2011, p. 15). As Table 4-1 shows, the total of all grants awarded under this program for the six fiscal years from 2009 through 2014 was $43.2 million. This is less than the $50 million granted by the privately funded Lazarus Fund initiative and far less than neighboring Canada spends on integration efforts, even though the United States has many more immigrants than Canada.31 Furthermore, since the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program has no authorizing statute, officials in the Office of Citizenship are unsure year to year whether the program can continue.
Public support for integration not only provides assistance in navigating the naturalization process but also sends the message that governments welcome and want to encourage civic integration. The lack of such federal support in the United States might partially explain the substantial gap in
TABLE 4-1 Grants Awarded by the Office of Citizenship through the USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant Program
|Fiscal Year||Number of Organizations Funded||Total Grants Awarded (in $)|
SOURCE: Data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Citizenship data. Available: http://www.uscis.gov/archive/archive-citizenship/citizenship-and-integration-grant-program-archives [August 2015].
citizenship levels compared with Canada, as well as the starker differences in naturalization between less-educated and more educated immigrants in the United States discussed above in this chapter (Bloemraad, 2006a; Aptekar, 2010).
Some research does suggest that immigrants living in more welcoming environments are more likely to become U.S. citizens. Following devolution of public assistance programs in 1996 (see Chapter 2), immigrant naturalization increased not just among poorer immigrants who might have wanted to secure benefits but also among all LPR residents. And there is evidence that acquisition of U.S. citizenship increased most for those with more education and better economic situations (Van Hook et al., 2006; Nam and Kim, 2012). Furthermore, naturalization among immigrants living in states with the strongest anti-immigrant attitudes among the general population, as measured by responses to General Social Survey (GSS) questions on immigration, rose less than among immigrants in states with more positive attitudes, a finding that holds whether researchers use data from the Survey of Program Dynamics (Van Hook et al., 2006) or use U.S. Census 2000 microfile data (Logan et al., 2012). States with lower political participation barriers have higher naturalization rates, perhaps because a more open institutional environment signals that civic and political engagement is encouraged and valued (Jones-Correa, 2001b). An analysis of longitudinal data in Los Angeles County indicated that anti-immigrant legislation might spur a modest increase in immigrants’ likelihood to take out citizenship as a defensive measure, but that citizenship levels go up more dramatically after the perceived threat diminishes (Cort, 2012). All
these studies support a conclusion that the acquisition of citizenship is not just a matter of immigrants’ personal characteristics but also depends on the welcome they are given by the native-born populations and by organizations in the broader civil society.32
Beyond Legal Citizenship: Feeling American
Holding U.S. citizenship is a legal status, but it can also be considered a marker of national identity. Asked in the GSS whether having American citizenship is important for being “truly American,” 94 percent of U.S.born respondents in 1996 and 80 percent in 2004 answered affirmatively. Immigrants, however, might feel or identify as American without citizenship. In the same GSS surveys, a majority of foreign-born respondents (76% in 1996 and 59% in 2004) said that citizenship was not important for being “truly American.” Interviews with immigrants engaged in the naturalization process find that many feel American not because they are becoming citizens but because they have built a life in their adopted country. They see citizenship as a natural and commonsense step in their overall settlement process (Aptekar, 2015). Thus immigrants who are not citizens—and indeed, not to have legal status—may nonetheless feel American (Bloemraad, 2013).33
Like naturalization, feeling American is a story both about the personal views and orientations of immigrants and about the attitudes of native-born citizens. An extensive survey undertaken in 2004 asked over 2,700 U.S. residents what should be important in making someone “truly American” (Schildkraut, 2011). Almost one in five respondents said being Christian should be very important. When asked whether having European ancestors or being white should be very or somewhat important, 17 and 10 percent, respectively, answered yes. These percentages are small but represent a view of “being American” that excludes large segments of the immigrant population. More positively, 80 percent of respondents said that “respecting other people’s cultural differences” should be very important to being truly American, and 73 percent agreed that “seeing people of all backgrounds
32 There is evidence that in the early 20th century the naturalization of European immigrants was also linked to how warmly, or punitively, a state treated noncitizens. More punitive contexts, which raised the cost of noncitizenship, did not encourage higher levels of naturalization; rather, immigrants were more likely to acquire citizenship where the local political and social context was more welcoming (Bloemraad, 2006c).
33 In perhaps the most prominent example of redefining what it means to be American, Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines, started the “Define American” project in 2011, to craft a narrative of American identity based on social membership and contributions to American society. See http://www.defineamerican.com/page/about/about-defineamerican [October 2015].
as American” was very important. Comparing the answers given by different people who participated in the survey, Schildkraut (2011) concluded that there is significant overlap between the views of people from different ethnoracial backgrounds and immigrant generations; to the extent that different views exist about what ought to be at the heart of being American, differences tend to align with people’s political partisanship, ideologies, and level of education, not their ethnic or immigrant background. Thus both immigrants and native-born Americans tend to agree with a vision of being American that is not based on culture, religion, or even citizenship status. Instead, there is broad agreement that being American is defined by a common commitment to the ideals of diversity and multiculturalism. This suggests a more open culture of acceptance of immigrants and their descendants beyond legal definitions of belonging, with differences in attitudes on these measures explained more by ideology than by race or ethnicity.
Naturalization as Part of Civic and Political Integration
In sum, a striking drop in the share of immigrants taking up U.S. citizenship from 1970 through to 2000 seems to be reversing course, albeit slowly. Although clear explanations for the low naturalization rate among eligible immigrants are still lacking, research does indicate that socioeconomic status matters: for example, those with more education—a frequently used indicator of socioeconomic status—have an easier time with the process, while those who already face other barriers to integration also have more difficulty with the naturalization process. Legal status also matters, as one in four immigrants in the United States is prevented by law from pursuing citizenship (see Chapter 2). This legal barrier is problematic because the vast majority of immigrants, when surveyed, report wanting to become a U.S. citizen. It also flies in the face of a democratic ideal of civic equality, regardless of background or personal resources. Given some evidence linking naturalization with better labor market outcomes, and current laws preventing noncitizens from voting or running for office, lack of citizenship also implicates weaker economic and political integration.
A bright spot in this mixed picture is civic integration through the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees the birthright of citizenship to virtually everyone born in the United States, regardless of origins or parents’ legal status. This “birthplace citizenship” ensures a basic level of political incorporation of the second generation and, given the advantages citizenship provides, carries implications for social and economic integration. High levels of naturalization among refugees also hint at how public-private partnerships to encourage and assist with citizenship could pay civic dividends and mitigate inequalities in naturalization and political integration.
Voting and Other Forms of Political Engagement
Although naturalization might seem the logical antecedent to voting, the U.S. Constitution does not forbid noncitizens from voting in federal elections. As discussed in the introduction to Chapter 2, historically, some states and localities allowed noncitizens to vote, often as an incentive to encourage settlement (Bloemraad, 2006c; Hayduk, 2006; Raskin 1993). These laws “reflected both an openness to newcomers and the idea that the defining principle for political membership was not American citizenship but the exclusionary categories of race, gender, property, and wealth” (Raskin, 1993, p. 1395). By 1926, however, all states had repealed such policies, given nativist sentiment following World War I and labor unrest at home (Murray, 1955; Raskin, 1993).
Today, except for a handful of localities, the right to vote is restricted to adult citizens. Noncitizens, even those who are lawful permanent residents, are effectively shut out of participating in key parts of the political system: they cannot vote for a political candidate, run for office, or participate in direct democracy through referenda, recalls, or ballot initiatives. There are some important exceptions, as lawful permanent residents are allowed to make campaign contributions to federal, state, and local elections (Federal Election Commission, 2003) and noncitizens can contact elected officials about issues of concern, attend protests, and persuade others to vote.
Voting As a Measure of Political Integration
While naturalization is, at present, the first step to voting for the foreign-born, there are other steps that immigrants must navigate. Unlike in countries such as Australia, where voter registration is automatic and voting is mandatory, the United States leaves these decisions to individuals. Jurisdictions within the United States also vary in their requirements for maintaining a current and valid voter registration. Stricter voter identification requirements in some jurisdictions have generated reductions in voter turnout (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2014), but their systematic effects on voting among naturalized citizens have not yet been examined (although a prior literature suggests that stricter registration rules may dampen voting among naturalized citizens, see Jones-Correa, 2001b).34 The United States is also unlike most other advanced, industrialized democracies in that it has a comparatively weak party system with candidate-centered elections and a far greater number of offices for election, ranging from
34 There is some debate over the disproportionate impact of these laws on turnout among Latinos and Asian Americans (Cobb et al., 2012), and there have been no studies of how voter identification (“voter ID”) laws affect voting patterns with respect to the birthplace of voters (e.g., U.S-born compared with naturalized citizens by region of origin).
federal and state seats, to county supervisors and city councilors, to judges, school board members, insurance commissioners, and so on. Often, these many and varied elections are held at different times, further depressing voting turnout (Hajnal and Lewis, 2003).
Even when it comes to presidential and congressional midterm elections, voter turnout is relatively low in the United States relative to other countries. Low voter turnout is characteristic of both native-born and foreign-born citizens, although turnout tends to be somewhat lower among foreign-born citizens, with some exceptions. Since reports of voter turnout collected by state officials do not contain information on voters’ birthplace, analysts have to rely on self-reports of registration and voting, such as responses to questions in the Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement (CPS-VRS), which is conducted in November of every midterm and presidential election year. The panel’s analyses of 1996-2012 CPS-VRS data indicate that voting among first generation immigrants has been consistently lower than voting among those in the second or later generations.35 In 1996, there was a pattern of “second generation advantage” in voting, relative to third and later generation Americans, but this ‘advantage’ disappeared after 2000, due largely to the changing age and racial composition of the second generation. Analysis of midterm election years revealed voting gaps between foreign-born and native-born citizens even greater than the gaps found in presidential election years.36 Naturalized citizens are also much less likely than second or third generation citizens to report voting regularly in local elections such as for a mayor or school board.
There are, however, some exceptions to generational voting patterns by race and ethnicity, according to the panel’s analysis. Among Latino adult citizens, from 1996 to 2012, voting was higher among first generation immigrants (averaging 52% across the last five presidential elections) when compared to second generation Latinos (46%) and higher than those in the third or subsequent generations (45%). For Asian Americans and blacks, there was no statistically significant difference in presidential voting by immigrant generation, while for non-Hispanic whites, voting was lowest among first generation immigrants (averaging 57% in the last five presidential elections), with a “second generation advantage” pattern of higher
36 This difference is more apparent in proportional terms than absolute terms. For example, voting among adult naturalized citizens was 36.8 percent, compared to 46.4 percent among those in the third generation and higher. This difference of 10 percentage points is roughly equal to the difference in voting rates found in the 2012 presidential election (53.3% versus 62.9%), but the proportional difference is significantly greater in the case of midterm elections (from the panel analysis of CPS-VRS data outlined above).
voting among second generation adult citizens (70%) than among those in the third generation and higher (64%).
Analyses reported in the literature have also found gender differences in voting and political participation among immigrants. Women are somewhat more likely to register to vote than men, although this varies across racial and ethnic groups (Bass and Casper, 2001a; Lien, 1998). There is also evidence that Latina immigrants are more politically involved than Latino men (Hardy-Fanta, 1993; Bass and Casper, 2001b).
What accounts for lower voting participation of naturalized citizens? Answering this question requires attention to participation gaps at each stage of the voting process: citizenship, voter registration, and voter turnout among registered voters. The foreign-born account for a 50 percent smaller share of the voting population than does the native-born population. The citizenship stage has by far been the most important barrier, accounting for 88 percent of the gap in voting participation between foreign-born and native-born in 2012. But voting requires two additional stages after acquiring citizenship: registration and actually turning out to vote. Differential levels of registration accounted for 12 percent of the voting gap in 2012. In comparison, voter turnout among foreign-born registered voters in 2012 was comparable to the turnout among native-born registered voters. Previous research (DeSipio, 1996, Ramakrishnan, 2005) also indicates that voting gaps between immigrants and the native-born are much larger at the registration stage than at the turnout stage.
Gaps in voting between foreign-born and native-born citizens are also significantly related to the following factors:
- English proficiency: Voting is lower among citizens who have limited English proficiency (Tam Cho, 1999; Ramakrishnan, 2005).
- Age structure: Controlling for age makes the first generation deficit in voting even worse, as naturalized citizens are older, on average, than the U.S.-born electorate (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).37
- Educational attainment: The positive relationship between education and voting is weaker among first generation immigrants than it is for higher generations, but is nevertheless statistically significant (Jones-Correa, 1998; Tam Cho, 1999; Ramakrishnan, 2005). The weaker relationship between education and voting among first generation immigrants is most likely due to the fact that most of them have attained their college degrees outside the United States, and the content of civic education learned in another country might transfer imperfectly to the political system of the United States (Tam Cho, 1999; Wong et al., 2013).
37 Analysis of 2012 Current Population Survey Voter Supplement.
- Party identification: Naturalized citizens have significantly lower levels of partisanship, which may lead in turn to lower rates of voting (Wong, 2000; Wong et al., 2011).38
- Past experiences with democracy: Ramakrishnan (2005) found that immigrants to the United States who come from countries with nondemocratic regimes are generally less likely to vote than immigrants from democratic countries, and a similar result was found in studies of immigrants to Canada and Australia (Bilodeau, 2008).
Other Forms of Political Engagement
Beyond voting, immigrants can get involved in the democratic process by contacting elected officials, making campaign contributions, attending public hearings, signing petitions, engaging in protest activities, and encouraging others to vote, among other activities. Immigrants do not need to be U.S. citizens to engage in these activities, although the limited data available suggest that participation among naturalized citizens is significantly higher than among noncitizens (Leal, 2002; Wong et al., 2011).39 The latest data from the CPS Civic Engagement Supplement in November 2013 show that 6 percent of naturalized citizens had contacted or visited elected officials to express their opinions, while only 2 percent of noncitizens had done so.40 Naturalized immigrants were also twice as likely as noncitizens to have boycotted a product or service because of the company’s social or political values (7.2% versus 3.4%), and slightly more likely to express their political views online (22% for naturalized citizens versus 17% for noncitizens).
Data from other surveys are largely consistent with the above results from the November 2013 CPS Civic Engagement Supplement in finding that political participation is higher among naturalized citizens than among noncitizens (Leal, 2002; Martinez, 2005). Protest activity might, however, be one exception to this general pattern, especially for Latino immigrants in the last decade. A 2012 survey of Latino noncitizens living in mixed-status households with at least one citizen adult found that the noncitizens were more likely than the naturalized citizens to participate in protest activity, and they were about as likely to attend community meetings (Jones-Correa
38 Importantly, among Latinos, lower party identification among first generation immigrants (Hajnal and Lee, 2011) is not reflected in their voting behavior (Pantoja, Segura, and Ramizez, 2001; Ramakrishnan 2005).
39 A study by Barreto and Munoz (2003) found that among Mexican immigrants, there was no significant difference in electoral nonparticipation between citizens and noncitizens after controlling for age, gender, income, education, and other factors.
and McCann, 2015).41 Unions that actively cultivate immigrant membership have also become a starting point for immigrants’ political and civic participation (Milkman and Voss, 2004; Terriquez, 2011). The bulk of academic research indicates, however, that even though many political activities are open to immigrants regardless of U.S. citizenship, a significant difference in participation exists based on immigrants’ citizenship status (Hochschild et al., 2013; Leal, 2002; Martinez, 2005; Ramakrishnan, 2005).
Beyond citizenship status, immigrant generation also bears a significant relationship to political engagement. Survey data indicate that participation rates among naturalized first generation immigrants are lower than among the native-born. For example, the 2008 American National Election Study42 found that naturalized Latinos were significantly less likely than native-born Latinos to sign petitions, either on paper or online, and were also less likely to make campaign contributions.43 By contrast, there was no significant difference between naturalized Latino immigrants (first generation) and native-born Latinos in terms of attending public meetings or protests. Similarly, the 2008 National Asian American Survey found significant differences in political participation by immigrant generation, with first generation immigrants less likely than higher generations to make campaign contributions, discuss politics with family and friends, and discuss politics online.44 This lower level of participation among first generation immigrants occurred whether the analysis examined only naturalized citizens or all foreign-born adults in the survey, and even after controlling for education and household income.
Political Representation of Immigrants
Beyond participation, political integration can also be evaluated through representation. There are different ways to think about the representation of immigrants in the American system of representative democracy, from immigrants being counted as part of the population for the purpose of drawing congressional districts (apportionment) to immigrants running for office and exerting influence on legislative decision making.
41 This might be a recent phenomenon as a study of data from 1989-1990 found that 8.5 percent of Latino citizens said they had attended a rally, compared to only 2 percent of Latino noncitizens who said they had done so (Leal, 2002; see also Martinez, 2005).
42 See http://www.electionstudies.org/studypages/2008prepost/2008prepost.htm [August 2015].
43 Nativity differences in the rate of political contributions among Latinos are statistically significant at the .10 level but not the .05 level.
Representation via apportionment Even though noncitizens do not currently have the right to vote in most jurisdictions, the U.S. Constitution still provides for an implicit expectation of noncitizen representation via apportionment. In Article I, Section 2, the Constitution stipulates that apportionment be based on a count of persons, regardless of citizenship.45 There have been some attempts to limit the representation of noncitizens via apportionment, and the Supreme Court is currently reviewing equality of representation in Evenwel v Abbot.46 The United States still has the implicit expectation that all persons, citizen or otherwise, are to be represented in Congress.
Representation through election to office Another way for immigrants to gain representation is by running for elected office. Indeed, one of the remarkable, early stories of representation among Asian immigrants is that of Dalip Singh Saund, who campaigned for Indians to qualify for naturalization in the 1940s, won elected office just a year after being granted citizenship, and in 1957 was the first Asian American elected to Congress.47 At the same time, there are limits in the U.S. Constitution to immigrant representation. While naturalized U.S. citizens may hold virtually all elected offices in the United States, the presidency and vice presidency are restricted to “natural born” citizens: one of the only areas in which a U.S. citizen’s path to citizenship makes a legal difference in his or her rights and life opportunities.
The available evidence underscores that immigrants are relatively rare in the halls of congress. Throughout the 20th century, the prevalence of foreign-born Representatives and Senators in Congress has always been less than the proportion of foreign-born in the general population (Bloemraad, 2006a, p. 56-63). The highest proportion of foreign-born Representatives in any given Congress, 5.4 percent of all House members in 1910, was still only about a third of the percentage of immigrants in the general population that year (14.7%). In 1940, the proportion of foreign-born members in Congress, as compared to the proportion of foreign-born citizens in the
45 Of course, initially not all persons were treated equally for purposes of apportionment: slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person until the abolition of slavery and the passage of the 14th Amendment, and “Indians not taxed” were not counted for purposes of apportionment until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 (Anderson and Seltzer, 2001).
46 More recent attempts to chip away at noncitizens representation via apportionment have failed, such as a case petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2012, Lepak v. City of Irving, which sought to allow cities and states to exclude noncitizens for the purposes of drawing legislative districts of equal size. In addition, two U.S. Senators attempted, without success, to mandate a question on citizenship in the 2010 census, to lay the groundwork for court challenges and perhaps constitutional amendments to exclude noncitizens (Roberts, 2009).
country, hit a high point with 3.9 percent of Representatives foreign-born (17 individuals) compared to 5.5 percent of foreign-born among all citizens.48 With the resumption of large-scale immigration in the late 1960s, the ratio of foreign-born representation in the house to the total foreign-born population fell—perhaps surprisingly—with only a very modest increase in the 1990s. Relative to other major Western immigrant-receiving countries, immigrant representation in the United States in the national legislature is not among the lowest, but also not among the nations whose ratios are closest to parity (Alba and Foner, 2015; Bloemraad, 2011).
Today, although naturalized citizens account for about 7 percent of voters, only one U.S. Senator out of 100 is a naturalized citizen—Mazie Hirono (D-HI), born in Japan—and only 5 out of 435 members (1%) in the House of Representatives are naturalized citizens: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Albio Sires (D-NJ), both born in Cuba; Ted Lieu (D-CA) born in Taiwan; Raul Ruiz (D-CA) born in Mexico; and Norma Torres (D-CA) born in Guatemala.49 Thus, the percentage of naturalized citizens in Congress (1 percent) is considerably lower than their percentage of the electorate (7%). This is far lower than the representation gaps for Latinos and Asian Americans more generally, however, suggesting that there is greater incorporation through the second and later generations.
Perhaps surprisingly, very few of the foreign-born members of the U.S. House of Representatives come from the largest source countries for naturalized citizens today: China, India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam. In the first half of the 20th century, about half of the foreign-born U.S. Representatives were born in the United Kingdom or Canada (Bloemraad, 2006a). By the beginning of the 21st century in the 107th Congress (2001-2003), no Senator was born outside the United States and of the six foreign-born representatives—born in Cuba, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands, or Taiwan—none came from a top-five immigrant-sending country (Amer, 2001).50
48 These statistics consider the Congress sitting at the time of each decennial census, comparing members of the House of Representatives to the general U.S. population. These data for the entire 20th century are not able to take into account foreign-born Representatives who were citizens at birth due to their U.S. citizen parents, as in the case of politicians born to military service members or diplomats stationed abroad (for more on the methodology, see Bloemraad, 2006a).
49 For full list, see http://library.clerk.house.gov/documents/Foreign_Born.pdf and_http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/three_column_table/Foreign_born.htm [October 2015]. In the House, an additional eight members were born to U.S. parents abroad. And as noted by the U.S. Senate reference bureau, Bennet (R-CO), Cruz (R-TX), and McCain (R-AZ) were all born to American parents abroad.
50 Information on the foreign-born in the 107th Congress from Amer (2001). This report does not distinguish, in counting Congress people born abroad, between those who held birthplace U.S. citizenship and those who naturalized.
There is little systematic data on foreign-born state legislators, but one might expect somewhat greater representation at this level given the presence of term limits in several states (Peverill and Moncrief, 2009), as opposed to the U.S. Congress, which has no term limits. At the municipal level, one would expect greater immigrant representation, especially in large, immigrant-receiving cities. The barriers to election are likely lower compared to the networks, experience and campaign financing needed to win national office. The more concentrated residence of immigrants at the municipal level can also facilitate local mobilization of immigrant-origin voters.
Perhaps surprisingly, then, the available research indicates that foreign-born representation in large cities is still limited. De Graauw and collegues (2013) reported that in 2009, only 8 percent of city councilors in New York were foreign-born, compared to 37 percent foreign-born in the city’s population. The corresponding percentages for Chicago were 4 and 22 percent, respectively; for San Francisco, 9 and 36 percent; for Los Angeles 7 and 40 percent; and for Houston, 7 and 28 percent (de Graauw et al., 2013, p. 1882). If the comparison is extended beyond the immigrant generation to include the second and third generations, and also enlarged to include consider African Americans as well, the representation of ethnic and racial minorities in these cities becomes much somewhat closer to parity (de Graauw et al., 2013). For example, ethnoracial minorities made up 49 percent of the New York City council in 2009, in a city where 63 percent of all residents are ethnoracial minorities (de Graauw et al., 2013, p. 1882). Across the five major U.S. cities that de Graauw studied, the biggest representation gap occurred in Houston, where the 71 percent of the city’s population is classified as of ethnoracial minority background compared to 43 percent of city council; the only city that achieved representation slight above parity was San Francisco in 2009: the proportion of all these minorities in elected office, 55 percent, was slightly higher than their share of the city’s population, 52 percent (de Graauw et al., 2013, p. 1882).
Representation through the legislative process While the proportion of foreign-born elected officials is a type of “descriptive” or demographic representation, evaluation of “substantive” or issue representation is also important. Despite comparatively low participation rates and very low rates of proportional representation, certain members of Congress might still be responsive to immigrant voters due to the profile of residents in their districts. Elected officials from districts with a high proportion of naturalized citizens may be likely more supportive of initiatives deemed important to immigrants, such as more expansive immigration policy. The proportion of noncitizens in a Congressional district might also matter for legislative votes on immigration policy. This may be the case if noncitizens share the
same preferences on immigration policy as naturalized citizens, or attempt to influence citizen voters, thereby gaining representation “through proxy.”
Nationwide surveys of Latinos and Asian Americans show that noncitizens and citizens who self-identify with these racioethnic identities share similar policy priorities and preferences, particularly on matters such as education and immigration (Fraga et al., 2012; Ramakrishnan et al., 2009). The panel does not have similar opinion data at the level of congressional districts, but did have data on whether members of congress with significant proportions of noncitizen constituents vote differently from those who have comparatively few noncitizen constituents. To distinguish between the direct political power of noncitizens versus “representation by proxy” through citizens holding similar preferences, the panel controlled for the proportion of naturalized citizens in the district.51 The panel’s examination of House votes on three enforcement-related bills in 2006 and the American DREAM Act legislation in 2010 indicates that the share of noncitizens in the district is significantly related to House votes at the bivariate level, and in a direction that suggests a member of congress with more noncitizens in his or her district is less likely to vote for restrictive legislation, and more likely to vote for the American DREAM Act.52 Even after controlling for a member’s party and the naturalized share of the electorate, the noncitizen share of the district is still important in explaining the final vote on enforcement-oriented HR 4437 in 2006 and the final vote on the American DREAM Act in 2010. There is, however, a partisan split in the importance of noncitizens in the electorate. Democratic House members with more noncitizens in their district were more likely to vote for the American DREAM Act, and less likely to vote for HR 4437, while among Republican members the opposite was true.53
51 If noncitizens do indeed wield political influence, one would expect such influence to be greatest on issues related to immigration. So far, the literature on Congressional roll call votes is largely silent on the potential representation of noncitizen constituents on immigration, with far greater attention being paid to the role of partisanship (Jeong et al., 2011), the economic characteristics of member districts (Facchini and Steinhardt 2011), member ideology (McCarty et al., 2006), and national interest group activity (Tichenor, 2002).
52 In 2006, the House voted on a series of restrictive measures that were heavy on enforcement, including HR 4437, which was introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and sought to make felons of anyone who is an undocumented immigrant or who assists someone who is an undocumented immigrant. In 2010, the House got another chance to vote on immigration, this time on a permissive bill, the American Dream Act (H.R. 1751), which would have legalized those who became undocumented immigrants when they were children. This bill was introduced in the House in May 2010 and was passed by the House during the “lame duck session” of Congress in December 2010 before failing a cloture vote in the Senate.
53 Other researchers have found a positive correlation between the proportion of voting-age noncitizens in a state’s population and spending by that state on redistributive social policy, net of the naturalized population, unemployment in the state, the state’s racial composition and other factors known to influence spending on social benefits (Fox et al., 2013). To the
Representation through bureaucratic incorporation Beyond legislative representation, immigrants may also have their interests represented through bureaucratic actors. Social scientists have begun to focus on a growing phenomenon of “bureaucratic political incorporation” whereby government officials respond directly to the needs of immigrant residents (de Graauw, 2014, 2015; Jones-Correa, 2008; Lewis and Ramakrishnan, 2007; Marrow, 2009). This response mode contrasts with the more traditional model of electoral representation, where immigrant residents attempt to persuade elected representatives (either in the executive or legislative branch), who then push bureaucracies to be more responsive, via legislative oversight, executive policy, or both.
These studies have shown that heads of government agencies—particularly school administrators, librarians, and police chiefs—are likely to implement programs in a manner that addresses the needs of immigrants (de Graauw 2014, 2015; Jones-Correa 2008; Lewis and Ramakrishnan 2007; Marrow 2009, 2011). In places where immigrant residents are a smaller share of the electorate, this kind of bureaucratic implementation may stem from a sense of professional mission, norms reinforced through initial training and ongoing professional development, or the need to achieve particular goals (such as a reduction in crime) that require cooperation from immigrant residents. However, there are limits to bureaucratic incorporation: it may be subject to overrule by elected officials as political dynamics change, and it may be more vulnerable to cuts in agency budgets because there is less of a voting constituency to apply pressure to maintain funding necessary for incorporation activities.
While political acts constitute a significant aspect of civic engagement in American society, it is also important to examine the ways that immigrants are involved in their communities more generally, through acts of volunteerism and social participation. Studies of immigrant civic participation have drawn attention to a wide array of formal and informal institutions, such as indigenous dance groups, hometown associations, mutual assistance groups, and family or clan networks (de Graauw, 2015; CorderoGuzman, 2005; Ramakrishnan and Bloemraad, 2008, Ramakrishnan and Viramontes, 2010; Terriquez, 2011; Wong, 2006).
Studies of volunteerism from about a decade ago indicated large gaps in participation by nativity, with volunteering substantially higher among
extent that immigrants experience, on average, higher poverty rates than the native-born, this might be another example of noncitizens influencing political decision making despite disenfranchisement.
native-born residents than among the foreign-born (Ramakrishnan, 2006, Foster-Bey, 2008), as well as for membership in civic organizations (Han, 2004). These gaps in participation were more marked than racial gaps in volunteerism, and also showed that naturalized citizens were much more likely to be civically involved through community organizations than those who were not U.S. citizens. The latest available data from the CPS Volunteer Supplement show these patterns to be persistent (see Figure 4-5), with rates of volunteerism nearly twice as high for all native-born (27%) than for all foreign-born (15%), and that native-born in all ethnoracial groups were more likely to volunteer than their foreign-born peers. Importantly, other data from the same CPS-VS round indicate that volunteerism is higher among naturalized citizens (18%) than among noncitizens (13%), and that length of stay in the United States matters: long-term immigrant residents—i.e., those living in the United States for 20 years or more—have significantly higher rates of volunteerism (18%) than those living in the United States for 10 years or fewer (11%). In addition to differences in volunteerism by nativity, there were significant racial gaps in participation, although as Figure 4-5 indicates, these gaps are much greater among the native-born than among the foreign-born. Finally, while these gaps in
participation by race and nativity diminish when controlling for education and income, they still remain statistically significant.
Examining individuals’ volunteer activities is but one side of understanding civic engagement; immigrant integration also depends on the breadth, depth, and openness of civil society. Civil society comprises the groups, organizations, and informal associations that offer a sense of community, provide services and information, advocate for issues or policies, and take action on a host of issues. These groups—which can range from a local food bank to a political action committee—are neither public institutions nor for-profit businesses; they instead inhabit what some have called a “third sector” of American society. Mirroring the tensions between enforcement and integration outlined in Chapter 2, U.S. civil society groups can either advance agendas and undertake enforcement activities meant to keep immigrants out of the United States, work actively to help immigrants integrate into the economic, social and political spheres of their new communities, or ignore or be blind to immigrant populations—neither working for exclusion nor for inclusion.
On the enforcement side, America’s long history of immigration parallels a tradition of organizing to reduce or restrict immigration, from fears about Catholic, Jewish, and Asian immigrants and concerns about political radicals in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Higham, 1955) to worries about undocumented migration and foreign terrorists in the 21st century. Today, some Americans feel that there is insufficient staffing on the U.S.Mexico border by the Border Patrol, and they therefore organize themselves as a civilian extension of the agency, conducting volunteer patrols (Elcioglu, 2014; Shapira, 2013). Far inland, long-time residents of some smaller communities experiencing rapid population growth have organized to pass ordinances seeking to deter immigrants’ settlement, as in the case of Prince William County, Virginia. The community group Help Save Manassas worked with other civil society organizations at the national and local levels to convince the County Board of Supervisors to pass Resolution 07-609, directing police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone detained and to enter into a 287(g) agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (Singer et al., 2009).
At the same time, civil society groups have long been the backbone of integration efforts. This was as true in the 19th century, a time when governments had limited engagement with immigrant residents and nonprofit and civil society organizations did much of the day-to-day settlement work, animated by volunteer efforts, public contracts, and private donations. Broadly speaking, a similar pattern applies today. Historically, religious institutions spanning faiths helped newcomers find housing, jobs, and community; initiatives that were also carried out by settlement houses, associations organized around particular hometowns or kin networks, and
myriad other organizations. When the U.S. government initiated a concerted effort to resettled displaced people following World War II, it entered into partnership with voluntary agencies (“VOLAGs”) to carry out the resettlement. This partnership continues today with organizations such as Church World Service, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the International Rescue Committee, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.54 Today, civic integration and mobilization can occur through congregations and faith communities (Ecklund, 2008; Heredia, 2011; Mora, 2013), unions (Gleeson, 2009; Milkman, 2000; Terriquez, 2011), nonprofit service agencies (de Graauw, 2014, 2015; Cordero-Guzmán, 2005), or a host of other organizations, from sports and recreation groups to arts and cultural associations, business associations, or school-based parent groups (Ramakrishnan and Bloemraad, 2008).
Research on the civic and organizational foundations of immigrants’ integration is underdeveloped, but the evidence thus far suggests that civil society groups—whether organized by immigrants or predominantly organized by native-born citizens who include immigrant members—can facilitate integration. A denser and more active civil society infrastructure helps low-income immigrants access health and human services, for themselves and vulnerable children (Cordero-Guzmán, 2005; de Graauw, 2008; Flores et al., 2005; Yoshikawa et al., 2014), provides information and resources to make legal claims against discriminatory employment practices (Gleeson, 2009), facilitates citizenship acquisition and political engagement (Bloemraad, 2006a; Cordero-Guzmán et al., 2008; Wong, 2006), and provides a way for immigrants—including noncitizens—to secure some measure of policy representation (de Graauw, 2008; 2015). Membership in voluntary organizations such as athletic and social clubs can also provide immigrants with resources that aid integration in other domains, such as information about employment opportunities (Massey et al., 1987).
Many American civil society groups—probably the majority—are oriented neither to enforcement nor to integration. This is understandable to the extent that many groups have a purpose or a mission not centered on immigrants or immigration; one can think of groups such as a choral society, baseball league, volunteer fire department, high school debate society, nonprofit health clinic, or environmental advocacy organization. However, given that increasing immigration is a reality in a growing number of communities across the United States, these groups’ lack of involvement
54 The nine officially recognized voluntary agencies with which the Office of Refugee Resettlement works today are the Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, International Rescue Committee, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief Corporation.
with immigrant populations can be a lost opportunity to build bridges, share information and resources, and generate new feelings of community. Even in traditional regions of immigration, researchers have found that suburban areas have engaged in very limited public-private partnerships with immigrants and immigrant organizations, even when the proportion of the municipality’s population is 40 percent foreign-born (de Graauw et al., 2013; see also Joassart-Marcelli, 2013). This raises the possibility of potentially troubling inequalities and civic stratification by nativity and residential location, as well as inequalities between immigrant-origin national origin groups based on the groups’ resources (educational, linguistic, and financial) and inequalities by legal status (Gleeson and Bloemraad, 2013; Joassart-Marcelli, 2013; Ramakrishnan and Bloemraad, 2008). Especially as immigrants move to new destinations, a lack of civic capacity and limited support for building immigrant organizations might impede integration in the future. On the flip side, research in rural areas and new immigrant destinations found that immigrant civic engagement was higher in places with a prior history of refugee resettlement and in places that have large, supportive nonprofits and public universities (Andersen, 2010). The positive experience of private-public partnerships around refugee resettlement provides a template for successful engagement with civil society around immigrant integration.
All democratic countries need residents who are knowledgeable about their government institutions, current issues, and ways to be engaged to keep democratic legitimacy and accountability strong. Such democratic “learning” is as relevant to the native-born population as it is to immigrant populations. But for the foreign-born, especially those who come to the United States as adults, processes of civic and political learning can occur along different pathways, such as through non-English ethnic media, or they do not occur as fully, as the participation gaps between native-born and foreign-born outlined above suggest. In particular, for adult immigrants, an individual’s level of education is not as strong a predictor of political participation as it is among the native-born population (Cho, 1999; Ramakrishnan, 2005), perhaps because the content of civic education learned in another country might transfer imperfectly to the political system of the United States. Substituting for the role that schools play for native-born children (discussed below), unions (Han, 2004; Milkman and Terriquez, 2012; Terriquez, 2011), ethnic media (Felix et al., 2008), religious institutions (Heredia, 2011; Mora, 2013; Stoll and Wong, 2007) and workplaces (Verba et al., 1993) can provide contexts in which adult immigrants can learn about and be mobilized into civic and political engagement.
Attention to immigrant origins and engagement also raises questions for second generation youth or immigrant children who arrive in the United States at a young age. For native-born citizens with native-born parents, political and civic learning often takes place in the family, as parents talk about politics (or not) with their children, model behaviors such as voting and volunteering, or bring children to rallies or protests. Foreign-born parents can also engage in such parent-to-child learning, but the inter-generational transmission of political attitudes, behaviors, and civic involvements might be weaker, given a limited knowledge of how things work in the United States. Especially if immigrant parents are noncitizens, or perhaps not even lawful permanent residents, immigrant-origin youth might be less likely to learn about, or take an interest in, American politics and civic life. Research on this topic is sparse, but available evidence suggests that the children of immigrants are no less likely—and no more likely—to engage in volunteer activities or to vote than similarly situated children of native-born parents, even in the case of undocumented parents (Callahn and Muller, 2013; Humphries et al., 2013; Terriquez and Kwon, 2014).
Schools appear to play an important role in equalizing civic and political engagement among young people, regardless of parents’ immigrant background. In the 19th century, the American common school emerged as an institution to teach both basic skills for work and democratic participation. Today, these twin roles continue. Schools can provide places to develop political identities, learn about government and citizenship, and be encouraged to volunteer or perform community service. Research shows that extracurricular involvement and volunteering shape adolescents’ social and civic experiences equally, regardless of parents’ nativity (Niemi et al., 2000; Stepik and Stepik, 2002. However, while parents’ socioeconomic status predicts nonimmigrant students’ engagement, in at least one longitudinal dataset of youth transitioning to adulthood, that association was weaker among immigrant-origin youth; instead, exposure to social studies in high school appeared to have a significant, positive effect on these young people’s likelihood of voting, registering to vote, and identifying with a political party (Callahan and Muller 2013; Humphries et al., 2013). Other findings underscore the importance of schools in immigrant-origin youths’ civic and political integration, an influence which can have spill-over effects for parents, especially mothers, who have contact with school programs and school officials, from teachers to guidance counselors (Terriquez, 2012).
Outside of schools, youth who are members of community-based organizations with strong advocacy orientations and leadership training are more likely to be politically active, and they might even pass along their knowledge to parents (Terriquez and Kwon, 2014). Indeed, the children of immigrants, educated in American schools, might engage in “reverse” political socialization, teaching their immigrant parents about the electoral
Political and civic engagement—and the learning of skills and cultivation of interest in politics and community issues—can also occur across international boundaries. Some observers have worried that immigrants’ activism in their home countries, whether around homeland elections or in raising funds for community development, might impede engagement in and learning about U.S. politics and civic affairs. But research has found no such trade-off between U.S.-based and homeland engagements. Some scholars have concluded that participation in transnational organizations (DeSipio, 2006; Portes et al., 2008) and attention to homeland concerns (Chung et al., 2013; Karpathakis, 1999; Wong et al., 2013) have a positive effect on participation and interest in U.S. political life. And overall, only a very small proportion of immigrants appear to be actively engaged in homeland political activities, even if they continue to send money or travel to their home country (Guarnizo et al., 2003; Waldinger, 2008). As with multiple citizenship, it appears that those with more education and more secure economic situations are more likely to engage in political and civic activities spanning borders (Lessinger, 1995; Ong, 1999; Guarnizo et al., 2003).
If the naturalization rate is the best marker of immigrants’ political integration into the United States, then the research cited above indicates that there is reason for concern, despite slight increases in naturalization rates since 2000. There are notable disparities in who becomes a citizen by socioeconomic status, and evidence exists that the naturalization process itself makes it more difficult for immigrants who already face barriers to integration to achieve citizenship, despite their desire to do so. Meanwhile legal status bars many immigrants from citizenship, a burden that falls disproportionately on immigrants from Mexico and Central America. But despite these correlations, there are no clear explanations for low naturalization rates, particularly for those who have higher socioeconomic status.
Conclusion 4-1 Overall, moderate levels of naturalization in the United States appear to stem not from immigrants’ lack of interest or even primarily from the bureaucratic process of applying for citizenship. Instead the obstacle to naturalization lies somewhere in the process by which individuals translate their motivation to naturalize into action. Further research is needed to clearly identify this barrier.
In addition, foreign-born representation at all levels of government is disproportionately low. This poses a challenge to the American democratic ideal of civic equality and has implications for dimensions beyond political integration, such as labor market participation.
The decentralized nature of the U.S.’s immigrant integration “system” may also hinder immigrants’ political and civic integration (see Chapter 2). While civil society groups have historically been the backbone of grassroots integration efforts and continue to provide invaluable services in areas where there is established organizational presence, in new immigrant destinations a lack of engagement between civil society organizations and immigrants or immigrant organizations leaves a void in many communities. However, successful models of public-private partnerships could provide a template for successful engagement with civil society around immigrant integration, even in places where these efforts are currently absent. And other social institutions, perhaps most importantly schools, continue to provide invaluable tools for political and civic integration for immigrants and the second generation.
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