Skip to main content

Cityscape: Volume 11 Number 3 | Chapter 1



Volume 11 Number 3

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: The Role of Immigrant Enclaves

Natasha T. Duncan
Brigitte S. Waldorf

As with the articles in this issue, this introduction reflects the views of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


The United States provides a path to citizenship for its newcomers. Unlike other immigration countries, however, the United States does not have policies that ease assimilation or directly promote naturalization, such as easily accessible and widely advertised language and civic instruction courses. Immigrants are by and large left on their own when facing legal and financial barriers or seeking instruction to pass the citizenship test. Not surprisingly, we find that immigrants’ attributes, such as educational attainment, English language proficiency, and income, affect naturalization rates. This article analyzes whether naturalization rates are also affected by neighborhood characteristics and informal networks for assistance and information. We estimate a binary model of immigrants’ citizenship status, specifying the size of the immigrant enclave and its level of assimilation as key explanatory variables. The study uses 2005 American Community Survey data and focuses on immigrants from the Caribbean islands now living in the New York area. The results suggest that who they are and where they live substantially affect immigrants’ propensities to have acquired U.S. citizenship. Citizenship is unlikely for recent arrivals and for people who speak English poorly or not at all, are poorly educated, and have a low income. Living in a neighborhood with a well-assimilated immigrant enclave enhances the chance of acquiring U.S. citizenship. This effect is stronger for highly educated immigrants than it is for poorly educated immigrants and, thus, misses the more vulnerable segments of the immigrant population. In poorly assimilated enclaves, enclave size has a positive effect on immigrants’ propensities to become U.S. citizens, whereas we find the opposite effect in neighborhoods with well-assimilated enclaves.

Previous Article   |   Next Article


image of city buildings