The Curious Relationship between 'Self-Deportation' Policies and Naturalization Rates

65 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2012 Last revised: 3 Nov 2015

Angela M. Banks

William & Mary Law School

Date Written: 2013


Mitt Romney has stated that the country’s immigration problems can be solved through “self-deportation.” Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia agree. For example, K-12 public schools in Alabama are required to ascertain the immigration status of all enrolling students. Police officers in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia check the immigration status of all individuals booked into jail. These “self-deportation” laws and policies, also known as immigration enforcement through attrition, are designed to discourage and deter unauthorized migration. Yet these policies are having a broader impact, they are creating a hostile context of reception for immigrants regardless of their immigration status. Social scientists have found that the structural and cultural context that immigrants encounter — their context of reception — plays an important role in shaping immigrants’ incorporation patterns, including naturalization rates.

Based on this social science research I offer a new argument about the impact of sub-federal immigration enforcement. Sub-federal immigration enforcement has overwhelming taken the form of “self-deportation” laws and policies. It is my contention that the growth of these policies is likely to discourage eligible immigrants from naturalizing. The use of racial profiling to implement these policies shapes immigrants’ perceptions about the value of citizenship. It reveals that ethnicity, foreignness, and immigration status are often conflated, and that the social benefits of citizenship are not equally available to all. Recognition of this reality may cause some immigrants to conclude that the benefits of naturalization do not outweigh the costs. While “self-deportation” policies may successfully deter and discourage unauthorized migration, they may also discourage eligible Latino immigrants from naturalizing and becoming formal members of U.S. society.

Keywords: immigration, deportation, naturalization

Suggested Citation

Banks, Angela M., The Curious Relationship between 'Self-Deportation' Policies and Naturalization Rates (2013). 16 Lewis & Clark Law Review 1149 (2012); William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-209. Available at SSRN: or

Angela M Banks (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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