Benchmarks of Immigration Civic Engagement

by Rob Paral

Jul 1, 2010
Immigrant civic engagement is an increasingly critical issue for the United States. Immigrant civic engagement may take various forms, but naturalization, voting registration and voter turnout are key measures or benchmarks. This report examines immigrant civic participation in terms of immigrants' current engagement, the capacity of states to provide naturalization and voting registration, and the impact that immigrants are having on the adult citizen population in the U.S.
  • The percent of immigrants without citizenship is falling.
  • About 8.2 million legal immigrants are estimated to be eligible to naturalize, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The leading groups and their number estimated to be eligible for citizenship vary substantially by state. In California, the top three countries of origin are Mexico (1,301,000), Philippines (151,000) and El Salvador (112,000). In New York, the top countries are Dominican Republic (165,000), Jamaica (53,000) and China (50,000). These numbers highlight the fact that many different national-origin groups have substantial needs for naturalization.
  • Recent years have seen a slight downward movement in naturalized immigrant registration rates. As a result, the registration gap between natives and immigrants has widened, and by 2008 the native-born registration rate exceeded that of naturalized immigrants by more than 11 points.
  • Naturalized immigrants who are registered to vote actually turn out to vote at about the same rate as natives. In 2008, voting rates were 89.2 percent for immigrants and 89.7 percent for natives. Naturalized Whites and naturalized Latinos vote at higher rates than native-born Whites. Improving immigrant civic engagement, then, is much more a matter of raising naturalization and voting registration rates than improving voter turnout.
  • The capacity of a state to naturalize its immigrant population may be gauged by whether naturalizations over the last five years nearly match legal immigration during that period.
  • In Georgia, Maryland and Virginia, the number of naturalized immigrants newly registered to vote meets or exceeds recent growth in naturalized citizens. In other words, capacity to register immigrants runs relatively high in these states.
  • Immigrants and their children are making a dramatic contribution to the growth in new citizen adults and newly registered voters. First- and second-generation Americans (immigrants and their children) are only 16 percent of the adult citizen population in the U.S., but they are 44 percent of the growth in adult citizens between the last two Presidential elections.
  • Even more dramatically, first- and second-generation Americans are the majority, 54 percent, of the net growth in registered voters that took place between the 2004 and 2008 elections."
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