passport_eagleAccording to the September 16 Wall Street Journal (“Mayors of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago Launch ‘Cities for Citizenship’”) the mayors of the cities with the largest concentrations of immigrants are joining with Citigroup ($1.1 million in funding) to boost the naturalization rate of immigrants in those metro areas. The rationale for new programs to assist eligible immigrants in the naturalization process is that it will boost the income of the new citizens which will in turn boost GDP and tax collections.

Behind this new program is a recent study published by Center for Popular Democracy and the National Partnership for New Americans titled “Citizenship A Wise Investment for Cities.”

Encouraging legal permanent aliens to naturalize is meritorious if the intention is to gain them the four chief advantages of naturalization:

  • Protection against deportation
  • The right to vote in U.S. elections
  • The ability to sponsor additional family members for immigrant visas and shorter waiting times for those visas
  • Access to some sensitive government jobs.

It is more dubious that gaining citizenship is an economic or fiscal slam dunk as the report implies. The analysis of Census Bureau data that was used in the study establishes that naturalized foreign-born residents earn more than those who are not naturalized. But that does not mean that the act of naturalizing increases income.

The authors of the report claim that they tried to limit their study to only legal foreign residents and used California data to do so. Perhaps they did so to some extent, although any researcher of illegal immigrant data knows that it is virtually impossible to identify the legal status of persons who avoid contact with researchers – especially government researchers. Regardless of their intent, the pool of non-naturalized foreign residents of the three cities is likely to include a significant number of illegal aliens and former illegal aliens who received green cards through various amnesty provisions including the 1986 general amnesty, and the lower earnings of that population is likely to be depressed not by their citizenship status but rather by their lack of education and English fluency. Whether they gain U.S. citizenship is unlikely to change that low income profile.

Nevertheless, there is a different variable that the researchers apparently did not take into consideration, as they made no mention of it in their report. That variable is the educational level of the immigrant. Because there is a testing process associated with naturalization, those with low levels of education and English fluency are less likely to invest the time and money to prepare to take the citizenship exam. Similarly, those who have a higher level of education and better English fluency are also likely to have higher incomes than those who do not. Therefore, comparing the incomes of naturalized and non-naturalized citizens will find a higher earnings level among the former –not because of their naturalization – but because of their greater education.

There is no reason to oppose a naturalization assistance project like that just announced. But, the use of a flawed study like the one that is behind the project is also likely to be used to argue that amnesty for illegal aliens will be a boost to the country’s economy because that will put the illegal aliens on a ‘path road to citizenship.’ As we have previously documented, the experience with the 1986 amnesty demonstrates that there is no subsequent economic bonus for the aliens or for the economy.