Governing Membership through Exclusion: Deportation Threat and Citizenship Acquisition, 1907-2018

Lauren Duquette-Rury, Wayne State University

Anti-immigrant rhetoric and punitive immigration policies threaten many immigrants’ security to remain and sense of belonging in the United States. I explain when noncitizens naturalize as a source of protection from and political reaction to the threat of immigration interior enforcement. Though there are nearly 10 million lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who are eligible to become naturalized American citizens, we know little about what motivates them whether to go down this path. Existing scholarship has helped us to understand what enables people to naturalize (i.e., resources, socioeconomic status, language ability), but an empirically founded theoretical understanding of what factors mobilize people to make that decision remains incomplete. Drawing on quantitative and historical archival data culled from various sources including census data, shipping records, congressional testimonies, public reports, letters, and case law, I trace the co-evolution and effects of immigration (admissions/deportation) and alienage law (rights and legal status membership) and show how threatening enforcement contexts change the propensity to naturalize. The study evaluates total and annual naturalization rates from 1907 to 2018, and Mexican naturalizations since they have been the prime targets of deportation threat since 1917. I find that the value of citizenship changes in response to threatening enforcement contexts and the convergence of rights and membership status between 1970 and 1996. As a result, becoming a citizen through the legal process of naturalization becomes more (and less) urgent, especially after 2002. Deeper exploration of the sociopolitical contexts in which eligible-to-naturalize noncitizens weigh the decision to acquire citizenship reveals how shifting political tides and social attachments modify the value and resonance of American citizenship, especially for foreign born groups targeted for expulsion.

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 Presented in Session 81. Exclusion and Inclusion