How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

If Senate path to citizenship becomes law, how many immigrants will take advantage?

Immigrants Sworn In As U.S Citizens At Brooklyn Courthouse

John Moore/Getty Images

Immigrants sign their certificates of U.S. citizenship before a naturalization ceremony. A recent government analysis of the Senate immigration bill estimated that roughly 8 million people could initially obtain legal status if the bill becomes law.

The U.S. Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill Thursday by a vote of 68-32 that proposes legal status and eventual citizenship for people now living in the United States illegally.

The bill also has a heavy border security component, but at its core is its legalization plan: Unauthorized immigrants would be able to apply for provisional legal status, then permanent status, then eventually get on the path to U.S. citizenship.

Related: Senate passes immigration bill; House says 'not so fast'

The bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law. But if it does, how many people might take that path?

The Pew Research Center has pulled together some estimates from previous studies. While roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants are estimated to be living in the country, not all would be expected to be eligible. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that only around 8 million unauthorized immigrants would initially obtain legal status under the bill.

With that in mind, some numbers from Pew:

A survey we conducted in 2012 found that more than nine-in-ten (93%) Hispanic immigrants who are not citizens said they would like to become a U.S. citizen.

This was true both for those who are legal permanent residents (96%) and for those who aren’t (92%). The vast majority in the latter group is in the country illegally.

The bill proposes that after a decade in provisional legal status, provided that border security goals are met, immigrants who benefit from the plan may then apply for permanent legal status. They would then be able to move on toward citizenship.

At that point, how many might be expected to naturalize? According to Pew, less than half of Latinos who are eligible to become citizens do so, compared with about two-thirds of non-Latino legal permanent residents:

Only 46% of Hispanic immigrants eligible to naturalize (become citizens) have, compared with 71% percent of all immigrants who are not Hispanic and are eligible to naturalize.

The naturalization rate is particularly low among the largest group of Hispanic immigrants – Mexicans – among whom just 36% have naturalized.

Finances play a role, as the costs of naturalization are steep. The last big spike in naturalization applications came before a major fee increase in 2007.

This story has been updated.

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