APRIL 29,2015: WHY LATINOS HAVE NOT YET NATURALIZED

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, 5.8 million Latin American and Caribbean immigrants are eligible to apply for US citizenship but have not yet done so.

When asked what their reason for not naturalizing, Latino legal permanent residents cited language and personal barriers (26%), have not tried yet or are not interested (26%), financial and administrative barriers (18%), not eligible or waiting for green card (13%), and currently applying or will do it soon (4%).

Among those who chose personal barriers, those barriers included, not knowing English (65%), and finding the citizenship test too difficult (23%). Language barriers were more severe in Latinos with lower education. “Latino legal permanent residents with lower levels of educational attainment, income, English proficiency, and with fewer years in the U.S. are more likely to cite language and other personal barriers as their main reason for not naturalizing” (pewhispanic.org).

This impediment highlights the importance of providing accessible English language courses for English as a second language (ESL) speakers, as well as easy-to-understand civics lessons. Many immigrant residents struggle to attend or enroll in English language classes due to unaffordable enrollment costs or inaccessible facilities. This is not surprising considering that many Latino immigrants often hold jobs with low-paying wages and inflexible hours. As a result, many give up trying to learn English, and without understanding of the English language, ultimately give up on naturalization as well.

For Latino residents to reach their goals of citizenship, organizations must expand their programs to reach immigrant communities seeking these services. Likewise, adult literacy programs must work with students in financial binds, providing financial assistance. Citizenship for Latino immigrants and the benefits, protections and opportunities that citizenship provides them and their families, is a task worth fighting for.