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Analysis Shows Almost Even Split Between Naturalized and Non-Citizen Immigrants

THURSDAY, AUG 08, 2019

In the wake of a debate over the possible addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the words “immigrant” and “non-citizen” are being used interchangeably. Not every immigrant, however, is a non-citizen. Indeed, a Social Explorer analysis of Census data shows that almost half of the nation’s 43 million immigrants are naturalized citizens.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that major metro areas such as Miami, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York have the largest immigrant communities. An analysis of 2013-17 American Community Survey data show that naturalized immigrants outnumber non-citizens in all of those metros. Indeed, naturalized citizens outnumber non-citizens in six of the eight metros with more than 1 million immigrants; only Houston and Dallas have more non-citizens than naturalized immigrants.

While circumstances vary, naturalization typically has been a lengthy, bureaucratic process. People who apply to become citizens must be at least 18 years old; have been a permanent resident, or a “green card” holder for at least five years; be able to read, write, and speak English; pass a basic civics test; have a clean criminal record; and “demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.”

A June Gallup poll found 23 percent of Americans believe immigration is the biggest problem facing the nation. Even though 75 percent of people polled said they believe immigration is good for the United States, 1 in 3 people said the number of people allowed to immigrate should be reduced. The Trump administration has come under fire for its efforts to reduce immigration by separating immigrant children from their parents and attempting to secure funding for a wall along the 1,954-mile border with Mexico. The White House has also sought to curb the flow of refugees into the United States by “metering,” or slow-walking asylum requests for people arriving at the Mexican border. Almost 20,000 refugees currently are waiting to request asylum; about 3 of every 4 refugees are successful in the first step of obtaining asylum by claiming their race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or social memberships make them subject to persecution in their home country.


Visualize and compare percentage of naturalized citizens to non-citizen immigrants. Visit to explore further.

Evidence also strongly suggests that the Trump White House’s proposal to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census is part of a plan to reduce political influence of immigrant-heavy communities that have tended to vote Democratic. Despite the administration’s denials, files obtained from a deceased top Republican strategist show that party officials believe a citizenship question would lower Census participation by immigrant households because of fear of being deported. A reduced participation rate in those communities would lead to congressional districts that included a whiter, older, and presumably more conservative voting base.

While immigrants have historically tended to cluster in large population centers, the Census data suggest that the rate of naturalization is higher in smaller metros. In La Crosse, Wisc.; East Stroudsburg, Penn.; and Bremerton, Wash. naturalized citizens outnumber non-citizens by more than 2-to-1.

The ratio of non-citizens to naturalized citizens drops precipitously in smaller metros in the Deep South and lower Midwest, according to Census figures. In Columbus, Ind., non-citizens outnumber naturalized citizens by a 5-to-1 ratio. Other metros with a higher ratio for non-citizens include Morristown, Tenn. (4.5 non-citizens for every naturalized citizen); Ames, Iowa (3.8); Lafayette, Ind. (3.5); and Jonesboro, Ark. (3.2)

Among states, California has historically had the highest percentages of immigrants. About 10.5 million residents — 27 percent of its total population of 39 million — are immigrants. The state’s immigrant population is divided almost evenly between non-citizens and naturalized citizens, and its percentage of naturalized citizens is the highest in the nation.

Meanwhile, Texas, the nation’s second-most populous state, has one of the lowest ratios of naturalized citizens to non-citizens. About 6 percent of its 27.4 million people are naturalized U.S. citizens; almost 11 percent are non-citizens. The ratio of 1.8 non-citizens for every naturalized citizen is the third-lowest in the nation, trailing only Oklahoma (1.9) and Arkansas (2.2).

Author: Frank Bass

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