The Pew Charitable Trusts Immigration and the States Project recently published an article on the amount of support for naturalization provided by state governments. The article focuses on three states: California, Illinois, and Washington.
California has a history of supporting naturalization efforts from the late ‘90s through the 2000s. This support ended in 2008 when the recession trimmed state budgets around the country. It resumed with the 2015 allocation of $15 million by the legislature to provide assistance for immigrants eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as well as for naturalization. In the fiscal year that has just begun, the state has added an additional $15 million for immigration assistance, including naturalization services.
Illinois has a history of supporting naturalization and immigrant integration services, too. Until 2015, the state supported the New Americans Initiative, and partnered with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to implement it. However, with a new governor taking office in 2015, support for immigrant integration services was zeroed out.
A few other states also provide some support for naturalization.
The law specifies that priority for services, such as English as a Second Language and civics classes, application assistance, and other services to help prepare for naturalization, should go to immigrants who qualify for certain federal and state means-tested benefits unless their non-citizen status bars them from receiving such benefits.
This is a common concern of states. Certain federal means-tested benefits are not available to non-citizens (for instance, Supplemental Security Income, though there are exceptions). In some cases, states provide means-tested benefits similar to the federal benefits until the immigrant becomes a citizen, after which the immigrant will qualify for the federal benefit. In these cases, there is economic incentive, from the state’s perspective, to get immigrants through the citizenship process so they could qualify for federal benefits.
Missouri is another example. Its 2016 budget gives $200,000 to the Department of Mental Health to assist naturalization-eligible refugees or immigrants with special needs. Grants are awarded to qualified non-profit organizations based on a program’s effectiveness in helping senior refugees and immigrants acquire citizenship and their ability to qualify individuals for Medicare. The 2017 budget has a similar provision.
New York State’s 2015-2016 budget allocates $6.44 million for the state’s Office of New Americans for a variety of programs, including citizenship preparation and assistance with the naturalization process. The allocation is repeated in the 2016-2017 budget.
Currently, there are only a handful of states that invest in helping new Americans become citizens. However, we can expect that, in the future, more states will realize that attracting immigrants is in their economic interest. Those states would hopefully support an infrastructure that helps immigrants integrate and become citizens.