Seeking Safe Haven: U.S. Welfare Reform and the Dynamics of Social and Political Citizenship

Frank D. Bean, University of California, Irvine
Jennifer Van Hook, Bowling Green State University

In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the “Welfare Reform Act,” legislation that introduced political citizenship as a criterion for receipt of welfare. This research examines implications for naturalization of state differences in the level and degree of access to welfare benefits after Welfare Reform. Instrumental-legal (IL) and institutional-contextual (IC) theoretical perspectives about the nature of citizenship suggest different effects of combinations of benefit levels and access on naturalization. Based on Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD) data for 1988-2002, and as predicted by IC theory, state-level combinations in benefit levels and access most symbolizing high ambiguity about contexts of immigrant reception are more likely to explain levels of and increases in the tendency to naturalize than certain other combinations as predicted by IL theory. This conclusion is buttressed by the finding that increases in welfare receipt by the post-reform period are no greater among post-reform naturalizers than pre-reform naturalizers.

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Presented in Session 70: Public Policy and International Migration