One of the criticisms of the “Gang of Eight’s” plan for comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate is it would bog down our already-strained legal immigration system. There is already a multi-year (more like multi-decade) wait to become a naturalized American citizen; throwing another 12 million people in line could bring the system to a screeching halt.
But recent data from a Pew Research study indicates that maybe this shouldn’t be such a huge concern. According to the study, (legal) Mexican immigrants are only half as likely to naturalize as immigrants from all other nations combined—barely more than one-third of them do compared to about two-thirds of non-Mexicans.
Given that Mexicans account for the majority (55%) of undocumented immigrants in the US, these findings have strong implications for a potential pathway to citizenship.
A look at the historical record also indicates that the number of new citizens resulting from comprehensive reform would be far less than its potential. A 2010 study by the Department of Homeland Security found that only about 40% of the nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants who received green cards from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act had become naturalized citizens by 2009.
The bottom line, according to Pew:
The Center’s analysis of current naturalization rates among Mexican legal immigrants suggests that creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants does not mean all would pursue that option. Many could choose an intermediate status—legal permanent resident—that would remove the threat of deportation, enable them to work legally and require them to pay taxes, but not afford them the full rights of U.S. citizenship, including the right to vote.