The multifaceted benefits of naturalization
© Greg Nash

Citizenship is the foundation of opportunity in America. When lawful permanent residents become naturalized citizens, they join a culturally rich and diverse population united by the rights, responsibilities, and endless possibilities that come with U.S. citizenship. The hope for this new beginning has inspired millions of people across the world for many years, marking naturalization as an integral part of the American story.

As we begin a new decade, approach another census, and gear up for a presidential election, the question of whether or not to apply for U.S. citizenship weighs on the minds of many residents. While the general debate over immigration continues in our government, one thing remains certain: naturalization is both great for individuals and their families and beneficial to the country as a whole. Everything that America represents, from liberty and justice to economic opportunity, is made fully accessible to those with U.S. citizenship. 

Naturalization has significant positive impacts on people's lives. The ability to become a part of the American family, confidently invest in a home or a business, and pursue any professional aspiration, including running for office, are all advantages of American citizenship. Additionally, Americans citizens enjoy the right to vote and are granted full and equal protection under the law. Beyond the benefits of these unalienable rights, the more people who naturalize in America, the more cultural diversity and economic growth we see. To serve the best interests of both individual residents and our nation as a whole, naturalization must remain accessible and affordable to those who apply for citizenship.

ADVERTISEMENT

In November 2019, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposed unprecedented fee increases on citizenship applications, jeopardizing the hopes of those who wish to naturalize. While many factors go into making decisions about immigration and naturalization fees, increases are not inevitable or unavoidable. Over the past two decades, presidential administrations representing both sides of the political aisle have found ways to balance the books while preserving the affordability and accessibility of the naturalization process.

To understand why, it is important to reemphasize the immense benefits that come from an accessible and affordable naturalization process. States and communities across America have thrived because of this process. A comprehensive report from the USC Center for the Study of Immigration Integration revealed that the economic impacts of naturalization include an increase in individual earnings by 8 to 11 percent, potentially yielding a $21 - $45 billion cumulative earnings increase over a decade, rippling throughout the entire national economy. Another report from the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative found that of all small business owners in the United States, 18 percent were immigrants. These realities not only fuel the American economy, they illustrate how anyone, from any walk of life, can be successful in America.

The stories that exist within these figures are what make our country great. Naturalized citizenship continues to be a foundational part of America’s fabric. When we welcome new Americans, we are reminded of the enduring values that help define who we are and unite us in our principles—we celebrate grit and determination, fairness, and opportunity. This identity has the power to contextualize our commonality when we agree and guide civility when we disagree.

Our communities need the contributions of patriotic and hardworking individuals who want to live happily and productively as American citizens. This is why we call on USCIS to ensure that applying for citizenship remains affordable. As legislators who represent communities that have grown and prospered because of our openness to new Americans, we continue to support affordable naturalization. Extending the embrace of a fair shot at the American dream benefits everyone and naturalization continues to be a vehicle for which that opportunity exists for those we should want to call our neighbors.

Leroy Garcia, a Democrat, is the state senator for Colorado’s 3rd Senate District. Anitere Flores, a Republican, is the state senator for Florida’s 39th Senate District.