Barriers and Strategies to Naturalization for Latino Legal Permanent Residents

New polling released today by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund and Latino Decisions highlights the importance of citizenship and strategies to address barriers that Latino Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) face in pursuing this very important goal. There are 3.8 million Latino LPRs eligible to become naturalized American citizens, this study presents a unique look at factors that can impede and facilitate their participation in the naturalization process. Latino LPRs express a strong interest in becoming fully incorporated into the American citizenry to improve their lives, and for the betterment of the larger Latino community. WEBINAR DECK HERE

Key findings from the poll include:
1. Citizenship is an important goal. The vast majority (84%) of Latino LPRs say that citizenship is an important goal; this view is shared across all demographic segments of the population. This strong support for naturalization suggests other factors affect their ability,not desire, to naturalize.

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2. Opportunity and community motivate interest in attaining citizenship. The most important reasons to pursue citizenship cited by Latino LPRs are educational and economic opportunities at 53%, and the right to vote at 51% (respondents provided more than one answer). Significant shares also cited family reunification (21%), and fighting discrimination (29%) as important factors.

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3. Cost and English ability are the largest barriers to naturalization. Over half of all Latino LPR’s (52%) indicated that language ability and the costs associated with applying for citizenship (including the application fee, document preparation, and legal services) kept them from pursuing citizenship.

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LPRs know English is critical to their ability to become citizens because an English exam is a required part of the naturalization process. To that end, most have made an effort to improve their English skills: 62% have taken an English class, and 46% have taken an American government or history course.

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Currently policy requires applicants to pay the $680 filing fee in full, a price tag that is too high for most (64%). Other payment alternatives could make the fee less daunting for the majority of Latino LPRs: 45% say paying half of the fee up front would be a viable option, and 33% would be better poised to apply if the fee could be paid out monthly, over the course of one year.

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4. Citizenship exam resources are in high demand. Latino LPRs point to several resources they would find beneficial in preparing for the Naturalization Test. Practice exams are viewed as the most helpful, followed by a support network (89%), and access to classes (88%). Over two-thirds also report study materials of all sort (English, Spanish, and online) would help them ready for this important part of the naturalization process. Given the large share that pursued English lessons, it is likely that Latino LPRs would take advantage of these resources if they know how and where to access them.

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5. Messages and messengers that cue family and community are the most effective. The most effective campaigns seeking to encourage Latino LPRs to pursue citizenship will incorporate messages that emphasize the family and community benefits of naturalization. With respect to messages, LPRs were most responsive to themes on educational opportunities for children, defending Latinos against racial profiling, and keeping families together. Similarly, we found family members and co-ethnics have the most potential to influence Latino LPRs to pursue American citizenship.

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This rare look into the Latino LPR population provides new insights on their perspectives and experiences that can assist organizations working with this community to attain their citizenship goals.

About the Poll: Latino Decisions interviewed 400 Latino adult immigrants who self-identify as Legal Permanent Residents between February 19th and March 29th 2013. All respondents were selected at random in both landline and cell-phone only households. The nominal margin of error is +/- 4.9%. Interviews were conducted in Spanish and English at the subject’s discretion. Full presentation deck here.