Immigrant Electorate Nearly Doubled Over Last 20 Years

By Shani Saxon Feb 26, 2020

Pew Research Center released a study on February 26 that examines the size of the United States’s immigrant electorate leading up to the 2020 general election. The report, "Naturalized Citizens Make Up Record One-in-Ten U.S. Eligible Voters in 2020," found that the number of voting-eligible immigrants of all ethnicities has nearly doubled to 23.2 million. 

Reports Pew:

The number of immigrant eligible voters has increased steadily over the past 20 years, up 93 percent since 2000. By comparison, the U.S.-born eligible voter population grew more slowly (by 23 percent) over the same period, from 181 million in 2000 to 238 million in 2020. (Immigrant eligible voters are those ages 18 and older born outside the United States who have gained U.S. citizenship through naturalization.)

Mark Hugo Lopez, one of the report’s co-authors, told Colorlines that it’s difficult to know exactly what impact naturalized citizens will have on the 2020 presidential election, but it’s clear that their presence will be felt in key areas. “Many immigrants live in states that either have primaries on Super Tuesday (California and Texas for example) or live in states that are likely to be important battlegrounds in the fall, [like] Florida,” Lopez said. 

The report points out that the Trump administration’s brutal immigration policies are likely driving immigrants, in particular, to be active in the upcoming election:

For U.S. voters overall, immigration policy issues have risen in importance recently. Immigration also has risen as a priority the public thinks Congress and the president should address. This has been especially true for U.S. Latinos under Donald Trump’s presidency. Many of the administration’s proposed policy changes, such as expanding the U.S.-Mexico border wall and limiting legal immigration, have generated strong, polarized reactions from the public. These proposals may also affect how immigrants see their place in America and the potential role they could play in the 2020 presidential election.

The study also points to two major reasons why the foreign-born eligible voter population has grown so significantly since 2000:

First, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has increased steadily since 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act became law. Then, the nation’s 9.6 million immigrants made up just 5 percent of the population. Today, 45 million immigrants live in the country, accounting for about 13.9 percent of the population. Most are from either Latin America or Asia. 

Second, a rising number and share of immigrants living in the U.S. have naturalized in recent years. Between 2009 and 2019, 7.2 million immigrants naturalized and became citizens, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In fiscal year 2018 alone, more than 756,000 immigrants naturalized. 

"Notably, there is often an increase in naturalization applications in election years," Lopez explained to Colorlines. And while "there are many reasons why immigrants choose to become U.S. citizens," Lopez added, "for Hispanic immigrants, one important reason is to vote."

Read the full report