A new study from the University of California at Irvine says that kindness, not money, is the biggest inspiration for immigrants to go through the processes necessary to become legal U.S. citizens.
Naturalization rates increased after the 1996 Welfare Reform Act restricted many benefits to just citizens, leading many immigration experts to speculate that the promise of welfare benefits was inspiring more immigrants to become citizens.
But results of a study by demographers Susan Brown and Frank Bean suggest that there is a strong connection between how welcoming a community is toward immigrants, and the immigrants’ likeliness to opt to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
“Legal immigrants are twice as likely to naturalize when they live in states with a warm, welcoming attitude toward immigrants,” Brown said.
The researches defined “welcoming attitudes” as those in areas where locals believe immigrants are hardworking and beneficial, and where they tend to oppose English-only policies.
“There’s no doubt that welfare reform has contributed to increased rates of naturalization — it added value and salience to citizenship,” Bean said. “But when we look at all the different forces influencing immigrants to naturalize, money doesn’t seem to be the major factor — it’s whether the state puts out its welcome mat.”
The most favorable attitude toward immigrants was reported in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. Immigrants in those areas were more likely to naturalize.