Latino Naturalization in Comparative Perspective

Louis DeSipio

in Latino Studies

ISBN: 9780199913701
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Latino Naturalization in Comparative Perspective

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  • History of the Americas
  • US Cultural History


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Naturalization is the legal process by which an immigrant formally adopts the citizenship of the country of migration. More than for any other US racial/ethnic community, naturalization has been critical to the long-term civic and political incorporation of Latinos. Latino migration to the United States grew throughout the 20th century and will continue to surge in the 21st century. For these Latino immigrants to be able to engage fully in US politics and to make demands on political institutions equal to the native-born, they must naturalize. As suggested below, however, immigrants generally and Latino immigrants more specifically face barriers to naturalization. Latinos are less likely than other contemporary immigrant groups to naturalize, and those who do take longer to become US citizens. The costs to Latino empowerment of non-naturalization are not limited to the immigrant generation. Children of immigrants born in the United States are US citizens, but they are less likely to be fully socialized into US politics if their immigrant parents did not naturalize. Thus, despite birthright citizenship, Latino civic engagement and participation can continue to lag for the US-born children of immigrants. It is important to look at the question of naturalization broadly and comparatively in order to understand more fully why some immigrants naturalize and others do not. Most countries, for example, allow immigrants (or, in some cases, their children or grandchildren born in the country of migration) to naturalize, though all establish limits on who can naturalize and under what circumstances. Countries that have relied on large-scale ongoing immigration to build their national populations—such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand—have established relatively low barriers to naturalization in the modern era but have histories of excluding some groups from naturalization or making it difficult for group members to exercise this right without state interference. Latinos fall into this latter category. Regardless of the standards for naturalization, not all immigrants who are eligible to naturalize do so, and no country requires immigrants to naturalize. Considering naturalization’s long-term importance to building national populations and the national political identity, naturalization policies are highly contested. The history of naturalization in the United States—and particularly of Latino naturalization—offers an example of this contestation and of the long-term importance of naturalization. Today, approximately 8 percent of new US citizens each year are newly naturalized citizens.

Article.  14150 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; US Cultural History

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