Mexican immigrants eligible to become U.S. citizens are far less likely to naturalize than other major immigrant groups, limiting their political clout at a time when the Mexican immigrant population is booming in Arizona and the rest of the country, experts say.
But that is changing, in part because a wave of recent state and federal laws and proposals aimed at restricting benefits to immigrants is prompting more Mexican immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens, experts say.
In 1995, just 19 percent of eligible Mexicans had become naturalized U.S. citizens. In 2001, the most recent year for which data are available, 34 percent had done so, according to the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research institute in Washington, D.C.
But they still lag other major immigrant groups.
Naturalization rates for immigrants from Europe and Canada held steady at about 65 percent. Asians had the highest naturalization rates: 67 percent in 2001 compared with 56 percent 10 years earlier.
According to a 2001 Urban Institute study, Mexicans represented 28 percent of the nearly 8 million immigrants in the United States eligible to become naturalized citizens. But they represented only 9 percent of recently naturalized citizens. At least 190,000 of the immigrants eligible to become citizens live in Arizona, where the Mexican immigrant population now exceeds half a million people.
In contrast, Asians represented 27 percent of the immigrants eligible to become U.S. citizens but 43 percent of recently naturalized citizens, according to the Urban Institute.
She said one of the reasons naturalization rates among Mexican immigrants are rising is out of fear. In the late 1990s, Congress passed laws that restricted legal immigrants’ access to public benefits and made it easier to deport them, she said. And since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government has begun aggressively deporting immigrants who commit crimes.
“I think there is a fear factor involved there,” Waslin said.