Welcoming attitudes promote citizenship
A study shows favorable views encourage immigrants to become citizens.
WHEN many welfare benefits were restricted to U.S. citizens a decade ago, naturalization rates increased, raising speculation that the major motivation for immigrants was money. But a new study finds that states offering greater welfare benefits did not see more immigrants seeking citizenship.
A more significant factor in naturalization rates was how residents of a state viewed newcomers, according to researchers at the University of California-Irvine. States like Hawaii where benefits aren't high but where immigrants are seen as hard-working and contributing to the community had twice as many immigrants heading toward citizenship.
That's no surprise. The flow of immigrants through Hawaii is at the core of its history and culture, and if a welcoming attitude encourages newcomers to adopt America as their homeland, all the better.
Researchers found that Hawaii was one of 11 states and the District of Columbia where welfare benefits were lower than most, but were more receptive to immigrants. States where residents had unfavorable views of immigrants and low benefits had lower naturalization rates.
Hawaii's mix of ethnic groups makes it easier for immigrants, especially those from Asian countries, to blend in. In addition, low unemployment and family and cultural connections make citizenship attractive.
The study discounted idea that illegal immigrants make up the majority of newcomers to the United States, finding that twice as many immigrants obtain legal status each year. It also pointed to a contradiction in that the U.S. government, while encouraging immigrants to become citizens, provides little assistance to ease them through the process.
In fact, an increase in fees for various applications, proposed by the Bush administration, will present a major hurdle for immigrants who often are low-wage workers. The proposal would raise naturalization application fees from $330 to $595 and permanent status costs from $325 to a whopping $905 -- hardly encouraging.
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