Top 5 Reasons Why Citizenship Matters

Written by Philip E. Wolgin

As the Obama administration and Congress gear up to fix our nation’s deeply flawed immigration system, the fight over immigration reform will revolve not simply around the question of what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, but how to resolve their status.

Over the past few months, a number of prominent senators such as Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) have floated the idea of offering permanent legal status for unauthorized immigrants living in the country with no direct path to citizenship as a “compromise” solution instead of full comprehensive immigration reform. By creating a permanent underclass with little chance of full integration into the nation, these proposals have rightly received strong backlash from advocacy groups such as United We Dream, elected officials such as San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Here we review the top five reasons why citizenship—not just legal status—is of critical importance to our society and to our economy.

1. Big gains to the economy. A December 2012 study by Manuel Pastor and Justin Scoggins of the University of Southern California found that a path to citizenship leads to higher wages for naturalized immigrants both immediately and over the long term. Naturalized immigrants earn between 5.6 percent and 7.2 percent more within two years of becoming a citizen, and peak at between 10.1 percent and 13.5 percent higher wages 12 years to 17 years from the time of naturalization. Higher wages means more consumer spending, and more spending means more growth for the overall economy. Pastor and Scoggins also found that even if only half of those eligible to become citizens do so, it would add $21 billion to $45 billion to the U.S. economy over 10 years.

2. Economic gains for the native born. Numerous studies have found that immigrants raise the wages of the native born—for example, by complementing the skills of the native born and by buying goods and services, all of which expands the size of the economy. And with even higher earnings after naturalization, more money would be moving through the economy. The $21 billion to $45 billion in extra wages would be spent on things such as houses, cars, iPads, computers, and the like, and as people buy more products, businesses see more revenue and are more willing to hire new workers. Put simply, more money in the system creates economic growth and supports new job creation for all Americans.

3. Certainty for both immigrants and employers. A number of scholars working on the economics of citizenship have pointed out that naturalization sends a signal to employers that their workers are fully committed to life in the United States, while also giving immigrants the certainty that they will never have to worry about suddenly uprooting their lives and moving elsewhere. This certainty gives employers the peace of mind that they will not have to retrain a new worker—often at high costs—if the immigrant employee loses their visa or chooses to move elsewhere, and gives individuals the stability to invest in more schooling and more job training, both of which ultimately lead to higher wages and better careers.

4. A stronger, more integrated United States. Since the founding of our country, we have granted citizenship to newcomers and have actively worked to ensure that they are fully integrated into everyday life. Nations such as Germany that historically denied citizenship to many immigrants have struggled to integrate those individuals into society, leading to blocked social and economic mobility. On the other hand, in countries such as Canada that expressly view immigration as a part of their national and economic success, studies find a greater sense of belonging and attachment to the nation among newcomers. Our goal should be the full integration of new Americans, not the creation of a permanent underclass.

5. Forward, not backward, on equality. The United States was founded on the idea that we are a nation of immigrants and that we gain strength from diversity. Over the past half-century—since Congress removed de jure racial discrimination from American life with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965—we have moved toward broader equality and a recognition of the power and strength that diversity brings to the nation. Instead of moving backward toward an idea of America as a country club that accepts some people as full members and rejects others, we must move forward toward greater equality. Creating a group that can legally reside in the United States but can never naturalize, can never vote, and can never become full and equal members goes against the very ideals that founded our nation.

As Congress takes up immigration reform this session, it would be wise to keep in mind the social and economic benefits that come with granting a pathway to full citizenship. The United States has always been a nation that thrives from fully integrating immigrants into the national polity, a nation of immigrants uniting around a common purpose. Anything less than granting a pathway to full citizenship is both un-American and runs counter to our nation’s best interests.

This post was originally published by the Center for American Progress.


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Photo: Elvert Barnes/flickr


William Troy
William Troy3 years ago

Not against immigrants, but it's not a coincidence that most of the prosperous nations have a low or moderate population density.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

we need reform. there is no "easy" answer and hatred for those different from us fuels a lot of inequality. We forget our roots, and make generalizations that impede progress

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Ecuador. Maybe my espanol is useful.

Alex H.
Alex H.3 years ago

I believe that over population makes a country poorer not richer.This is eminently illustrated by those wealthy countries that refuse to hand out their citizenship to any migrant,or if they do,put very stringent conditions on it.How else can a country with a specific culture and way of doing things,maintain its integrity?!There are people from over-populated,unsustainable,polluted and degraded countries now flooding out into the world,looking for somewhere better,but bringing all their cultural and tribal conflicts with them,with no intention of settling into a peaceful way of life.They go to another country to make as much money as possible while contributing as little as possible to the good of that country.They run unregistered businesses,thus avoiding tax,are a burden on the social welfare system,as they have child after child,and if the citizens of the country start "kicking up a fuss",they are called "racists"!!??when in fact,all the citizens are trying to do is defend THEIR tribe,and their way of life.No wonder so many people in well off countries,are feeling disillusioned,angry,frustrated and powerless.And the "elephant in the room"as always,is TOO MANY PEOPLE on this finite planet,not to mention giant corporations exploiting poverty-stricken countries and their peoples!

Marisa D.
Maria Damele3 years ago

I keep on reading posts of people who write without information. I moved from L.A. to Ecuador 3 years ago. I did a lot of paper work but they gave me permanent resident. The president here opened the doors to anyone without criminal records to come to the country and work or open a business. They know that as the country increases his inhabitants it grows finantianlly. Ecuador is prosperous. They have oil, gems, minerals, 32 volcanos for the tourists, natural gas, you name it. Since the government opened the doors to everybody, it became full of people from every country in the world. There are a lot of people from the US who have come to live here and from Europe. The government is building freeways, shopping malls, tunnels, bridges. I can't believe all that is happening here. And guess what, as a permanent resident I will be allowed to vote in the next elections in February. Of course I'll vote the same president that there is now. That is real wisdom this president has!

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Centurion in Ben Hur: He says he is a prince
Masala: Then treat him like one! Centurion! It was his country before it was ours, remember that.

People who have spent their whole lives here should have some points for knowing the culture and language like a native. That is the second reason why I won't immigrate to Canada: the Canadians spent their whole lives in Canada and I didn't, who am I to compete for their jobs? Also, if everyone leaves American rather than fixing it, we will really be in a ___.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Marisa, I disagree with my church. At the very least some foreigners have more options than most Americans. A foreigner who can speak English and travel has options worldwide, especially given the fact that many countries still consider them citizens if they are naturalized Americans. Dual citizenship is an advantage. Most Americans do not speak any language but English and even English poorly, and have never traveled outside the country. The United States government protects the interests of U.S. citizens abroad and it is time they also looked out for our interests at home.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

We need to change the 14th amendment so we can deport illegals and their American born children.

Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy3 years ago

Frankly, I think that families of illegal immigrants who have children should be vetted and if they are held to the same standard that we loyal Americans then they should have a pathway to legal documentation. The single men and women who come and go for employment for summertime and etc. should be given work permits for the time they work in the USA. However jobs should go to legal immigrants first and go to those who participate in the program to become legal. However, we have let this situation of an illegal population get so far out of hand that their own minority families that work for the US GOVT discriminate against we legal Americans. I do not see the US Govt or Corporations helping this issue at alllllll