A facetious gun control ad near Boston's Fenway Park. Photo by Jason Paris via flickr.com.
A facetious gun control ad near Boston’s Fenway Park. Photo by Jason Paris via flickr.com.

Ten years ago, the state of Florida beefed up its “stand your ground” law – a law allowing a person who harms or kills another, often with a gun, to escape prosecution by claiming that he or she felt threatened and acted in self-defense. In other words, Florida’s law – and many others like it – lets assailants go free merely by asserting their belief that the use of force was necessary to prevent serious harm or death to themselves or bystanders. Those who assert such beliefs become according to Florida law “immune from criminal prosecution and civil action.” Prosecutions are not entirely ruled out, but authorities must meet very difficult standards to pursue cases.

Since 2005, about half of all U.S. states have passed Florida-style laws, or very similar ones. The National Rifle Association has led the charge, arguing that stand your ground laws will improve public safety and protect honest citizens.

By now, however, there is clear and compelling evidence that such laws have failed to improve public safety – and have encouraged mayhem reminiscent of America’s old Wild West. Laws allowing claims of self-defense have existed for over a century, but Florida’s new law and its imitators dramatically alter the law enforcement equation. According to David LaBahn of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, investigations of civilian killings are now often hamstrung by legal protections greater than those afforded police officers who use lethal force.

The Florida Experience

Florida’s 2005 law was invoked in nearly 200 shooting cases through 2012 – a majority of them involving fatalities. The cases were documented by the Tampa Bay Times:

  • The Florida law’s chief beneficiaries were “those with records of crime and violence.” Nearly 60 percent of those making self-defense claims after killing someone had been arrested at least once before; a third had been accused of violent crimes or drug offenses; and over one-third had illegally carried guns or had threatened others with guns.
  • In seven of every ten stand your ground cases, the person killed was unarmed – and in 79 percent of the cases, the assailant could have retreated to avoid the confrontation.
  • Shooters who invoked stand your ground claims under Florida’s 2005 law succeeded in escaping prosecution two-thirds of the time.

guns across americaSimilar Trends in All Stand Your Ground States

Moving beyond Florida alone, other studies have documented equally worrisome trends:

  • Reporters at the Wall Street Journal studied “justifiable homicides” nationwide from 2000 to 2010. They found that such killings increased by 85 percent in states with Florida-style laws (even though some states have more limited versions of stand your ground rules on the books). The increase occurred even though overall killings, adjusted for population growth, declined during this same period. According to the Journal investigation, more than 80 percent of the “justifiable” killings involved guns, compared with 65 percent of other killings where claims of justification were not made.
  • For the same period, researchers at Texas A&M University found no evidence in data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that stand your ground laws deterred crimes, including burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. Instead, in states with newly buttressed stand your ground laws on the books, the homicide rate increased by eight percent – which in human terms added up to about 600 additional homicides annually.
  • Drawing on different data, a 2012 National Bureau of Economic Research study found Florida-type laws associated with a 6.8 percent increase in homicides.
  • An Urban Institute study found significant racial disparities in “justified” killings between 2005 and 2010. In states without stand your ground laws, killings were ruled justified in 29 percent of instances where the shooter was white and the victim was black (with much lower rates of justification for white on white, black on white, and black on black killings). By contrast, in states with stand your ground laws on the books, white on black killings were accepted as justified 36 percent of the time (with more modest upticks in findings of justification for the other kinds of cases).

Time to Rethink Laws Undermining Public Safety

The evidence is clear: Expanded stand your ground laws combined with more gun-carrying increases unnecessary violent confrontations and deaths. With more than 11 million Americans now licensed to carry guns, we need policies to defuse or avert public confrontations – and police and prosecutors must be able to conduct full investigations when incidents occur. A February 2015 American Bar Association report urges states to scale back legal immunity and restore the “safe retreat” standard in public places – a standard that requires people who feel threatened to avoid confrontation if they can do so safely. Since the beginning of 2015, legislators in ten states, including Florida, have introduced such measures. But many reform proposals are stalled, and 13 states are actually deliberating bills that would fortify stand your ground practices.

Long ago, Americans north and south acted to contain the dangers of open gun-toting and free-wheeling confrontations. As early as 1686, New Jersey enacted a law against wearing weapons because they induced “great Fear and Quarrels.” In the 1700s, three states passed no-carry laws. In the 1800s, as interpersonal violence and gun carrying spread, 37 states joined the list of those enacting restrictions. Alabama’s 1839 law was titled, “An Act to Suppress the Evil Practice of Carrying Weapons Secretly.” This history makes the current popularity of gun-carrying and stand your ground laws all the more mystifying. Apparently, twenty-first century Americans must now re-learn lessons their ancestors took to heart long ago.

This brief was prepared for the Scholars Strategy Network by Robert J. Spitzer, State University of New York at Cortland. Spitzer is the author of Guns across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights (Oxford University Press, 2015).


In recent decades, the United States has seen a spectacular rise in deportations, with local police forces authorized by the federal government to identify undocumented immigrants for summary removal. More than 11 million undocumented people across the country – including up to one in ten adult workers in the state of California – faced this threat in their daily lives.

To assuage the human costs, President Barack Obama outlined a plan in November 2014 to provide temporary protection to many undocumented migrants. Building on his earlier efforts to set priorities, the President specified that officials would henceforth seek to deport “felons, not families,” “criminals, not children,” “gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” In short, under the new policy, various kinds of immigrants deemed good would be protected from deportation. Well-intentioned city leaders, bureaucrats, and police would need to sort out the good immigrants from those vilified as criminals.

These well-intended steps are meant to alleviate the trauma that the threat of deportation has imposed on millions of law-abiding migrants. But how do the binary divisions work out in practice? My research, based on a year of observations in southern California plus 75 in-depth interviews with undocumented Mexican migrants, suggests that efforts to divide good from bad people in migrant communities can have pernicious as well as helpful effects. more...

Photo by Francisco Osorio Flickr CC
Photo by Francisco Osorio Flickr CC

Latinos living in the United States comprise the largest number of immigrants of any racial or ethnic group – and for this reason, many Americans presume that immigration is the issue that matters most to Latino citizens and residents. But is that true? Do Latinos themselves view immigration as their top concern, and if not what other issues are high on their political agenda? My research tackles this question, which is important for understanding the potential political influence of the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States. more...

The Live Below the Line Campaign encourages people around the world to try to live on a poverty-level wage.
The Live Below the Line Campaign encourages people around the world to try to live on a poverty-level wage.


Poverty is commonly explained as a matter of joblessness, while work for wages is viewed as a pathway out of poverty and toward upward mobility. Indeed, since the end of open-ended welfare benefits in 1996, U.S. public assistance presumes that creating incentives for poor adults, including mothers, to enter the paid labor force is the best way to reduce poverty and dependence on government. Yet many citizens do not understand that most poor adults already work. In fact, by some accounts the so-called working poor outnumber the non-working poor in the U.S. Effectively reducing poverty therefore requires addressing the problems of those who work yet remain poor. more...

The American Friends Service Committee's ARCA farm program trains developmentally disabled adults in farming professions. Photo by AFSC/Karla Zarate-Ramirez via Flickr.
The American Friends Service Committee’s ARCA farm program trains developmentally disabled adults in farming professions. Photo by AFSC/Karla Zarate-Ramirez via Flickr.

People with developmental and intellectual disabilities face many obstacles in getting access to the same rights and opportunities as people without disabilities. Depending on the state where they live, Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a number of options to find suitable employment. Various state agencies work together with the Department of Rehabilitation, social workers, and other supportive groups to help disabled people hold jobs that make them self-sufficient. “Employment First” is the goal for a growing movement of advocates and officials who see this as the best route forward for disabled adults, but a closer look at the realities suggests that many disabled people need extra support along with jobs.

Employment First proponents claim that individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities have a right to work in the community at the same wages as other employees. Although this is a worthy claim, individuals suffering from disabilities often need supported employment. They can benefit from job coaches or other trained professionals who can assist them in finding and holding posts. And such extra help may need funding, because many employers are reluctant to pay equal wages to people who often need extra support.

Legal Changes and Looming Challenges

Heretofore, many disabled clients have been employed at group sites holding contracts to provide services such as janitorial or landscaping work. Revenues from the contracts pay for client wages, supplies, and the services of job coaches. But recently word came down that governmental agencies will soon require that disabled clients earn at least minimum wages – a situation that leaves many organizations helping people with developmental disabilities worried about adequate funds to cover the increased wage costs.

In response, advocates are now urging increases in funding for agencies that provide services to clients with developmental disabilities. However, if this quest for extra funding falls short, group job sites providing opportunities for workers with developmental disabilities may be unable to cope with new costs. Contracts could be lost, thus leaving persons with developmental disabilities without employment.

Confusion in Store for Many of the Developmentally Disabled

Various sheltered workshops are closing due to governmental mandates – and that can be a very traumatic and confusing experience for workers with developmental and intellectual disabilities. When workshops close, attempts are made to procure employment for as many clients as possible in the larger community. But it is often difficult to find such regular jobs, leaving quite a few people with developmental and intellectual disabilities at risk of persistent unemployment. That, in turn can lead to depression, because many disabled people, like others, find self-esteem and dignity in work and the accompanying daily routines.

Persons with developmental disabilities are often creatures of habit who find reassurance in routine. For decades, many of them have been working in the same workshop or at the same group site. To close down such settings can spur widespread trauma. Professionals need to consider the cognitive levels of the individuals they serve and take into account just how much disruption people can handle. Even if changes are for the benefit of many people with developmental disabilities, are the costs in emotional trauma and loss of jobs for others worth it? Some developmentally disabled people do not even understand the concept of money or understand how to earn and spend wages like others in the community. What the severely disabled do comprehend is how they are treated when they are allowed to work like others they know. In our society, what people do for a living becomes central to their identities and this is just as true for the disabled as for others. Hardly anyone could cope with having such a core part of their identity stripped away, yet current changes in public policy threaten exactly that for many severely developmentally disabled Americans.

The Search for Solutions

However, there are two sides to every set of new problems and challenges. Many advocates for the disabled deplore the idea that disabled workers should be paid sub-minimum wages. They see this as exploitative, and pressures from them help to explain the public policy changes now happening. But even if the basic argument here is correct, there are risks as well if the new rules about prevailing wages force developmentally disabled workers out of any jobs at all.

Are there good solutions to the new dilemmas? Many of the sheltered workshops perform time studies where a client is tested next to a supposedly typical worker. They set lower prevailing wages for disabled people depending on their percentage of the productivity of non-disabled workers. But these tests take about five minutes and consist of timing the client to see how fast they can perform a certain task. Is it really fair to set lower hourly or daily wages this way, given that in real workplaces, many employees slow down for stretches or take breaks?

Much more research and professional consultation is needed to work out these issues, but the challenge is arduous. Given variations in federal and state policies, what works for one state may not comply with regulations in other states. Devising and implementing new ways to support disabled workers within the new wage rules will be a balancing act among the states and between the states and the federal government.

Clearly, Americans with developmental disabilities have the right to work and to earn fair wages like others in society. But researchers and caring professionals have a ways to go to find the best ways to achieve this goal. Fresh ideas are needed, and extra funding is bound to be required from public agencies and nonprofit groups as well as businesses, if the United States is to do right for its disabled citizens, including those who are developmentally hindered and thus especially vulnerable.

Gwendolyn Barnhart is an advocate of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is a PhD candidate in psychology at Walden University.

Sen. Dick Durbin speaks at a Chicago event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil, Flickr CC.
Sen. Dick Durbin speaks at a Chicago event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil, Flickr CC.

Activists, political leaders, and the general public view the Americans with Disabilities Act as one of the most important pieces of U.S. civil rights legislation. The law unquestionably improved the lives of people with disabilities in many ways, especially by enhancing their access to businesses and public places. But it has fallen short of one of its major goals: to boost employment and earnings. Twenty-five years later, the employment rate among people with disabilities is still considerably lower than among those without disabilities; and when people with disabilities do find jobs, they earn substantially less than those who have no disabilities.

My colleague Michelle Maroto and I have looked into why the Act fell short in this important respect, especially given that similar legislation, including the Civil Rights Act, accomplished more in reducing discrimination in the workplace.

Why Did the Act Fall Short?

In the scholarly literature and public documents and testimony, there are two hypotheses about why the Americans with Disabilities Act failed to improve employment and earnings. The unintended harms perspective argues that, by requiring workplaces to make changes for employees with disabilities, the law unintentionally discouraged hiring. And the judicial resistance perspective faults Congress for leaving much of the law’s enforcement in the hands of the courts, whose actions or delayed actions undermined effectiveness.

Both of these possible explanations presume that institutional contexts – the market economy, the court system – influence how legal intentions get translated into real-world outcomes. Scholars who pay close attention to the influence of institutions believe that labor market outcomes (and other economic outcomes) are shaped by more than just supply and demand. Federal and state legislatures, enforcement agencies, and the courts engage in activities that also influence economic outcomes that policymakers have tried to affect. Thus, proponents of the judicial resistance argument, for instance, suggest that court decisions distorted Congressional intentions and often undercut the role of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to various workplaces.

What Our Research Shows

My colleague and I sought to untangle the roles of legal requirements, state and federal institutions, and individual characteristics in shaping trends in employment and earnings among people with disabilities from 1988 to 2012. We used nationally representative data about workers from the U.S. Current Population Survey, and also examined Supreme Court decisions and state-level data on complaints about disability issues registered with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Our study cannot shed light on what would have happened if the national law had never been passed, but we can use comparisons across time, across types of workers, and across the states to establish some trends and explanations.

In 2012, adults with disabilities had an employment rate that was 40 percent lower than adults with no disabilities, even after we took into account differences among people in education, family situation, and other characteristics that could influence employment.

  • Employment gaps between people with disabilities and others increased both during periods of economic slowdown and times of economic growth.
  • People with disabilities earned about 33 percent less than people without disabilities in 2012, even after taking into account other relevant characteristics – and the earnings gap has remained largely unchanged over twenty-five years.
  • Better-educated individuals with disabilities fared better than others in both employment and earnings. Having a college degree seems to have had a protective effect for people with disabilities, helping them to overcome possible negative perceptions among employers.
  • Earnings among people with disabilities were greater in unionized workplaces and those with health benefits.

Patterns of enforcement mattered – in states, courts, and the federal bureaucracy:

  • Higher levels of enforcement activity by the courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were negatively associated with employing people with disabilities.
  • States also legislated against discrimination. Regardless of economic conditions, employment rates for people with disabilities were reduced by 4.4 percentage points in states that were slower to act.
  • Earnings were not affected by enforcement, and only slightly affected by state legislation.

Moving Forward

Our analysis showcases the importance of thinking about the politics following the passage of landmark legislation, not just the politics leading up to it. Our data lend some credence to both the unintended harm and judicial resistance arguments about why implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act failed to markedly improve employment and earnings. In 2008, Congress took note of these shortfalls by passing amendments intended to strengthen the impact of the original law. Future research needs to monitor the impact of these amendments. In the process, close attention should be paid to how legal provisions and rulings influence ongoing decisions by employers. In addition, our study underlines the importance of reducing educational barriers for people with disabilities, doing all that can be done to help them gain training and degrees. So far, educational gains have done the most to help Americans with disabilities overcome barriers in the labor market.

David Pettinicchio is a sociologist at the University of Toronto. He studies inequality and public policy, considering how outsiders and elites interact to make or stymie social change.

Responding to the climate threat will take an all-hands-on-deck approach that combines policies at the national level with coordinated actions by state and local governments. To support climate policymaking, climate scientists create detailed models of climate change risks at the local level. But fashioning publicly supported responses to climate threats is a major political challenge. As part of any effective response, state and local officials will need to interact with and represent the concerns of diverse constituencies. Policymaking will be shaped by public concerns about climate change, public understanding of the shifts in behavior necessary to manage the threat, and public support for different climate policy options.

To help understand citizen attitudes, we created the “Yale Climate Opinion Maps” – an interactive online tool supported by a peer-reviewed scientific article published in Nature Climate Change. Our online tool provides estimates of what Americans believe about climate change, their perceptions of climate risks and support for policy options, with breakdowns for all 50 states, 435 congressional districts, and 3,000+ counties in the United States.

Measuring Public Views

Recent years have brought a proliferation of polls that document national beliefs about climate change with a single number. For example, surveys indicate that 63% of Americans believe that global warming is happening. However, existing polls provide, at best, a limited view of the distribution and variation of opinions at the local scales relevant for many decision makers. Imagine we did a national survey of 2000 Americans that included 50 Americans from the state of Texas. Unfortunately, averaging the responses of these 50 Texans could not provide an accurate estimate of average climate beliefs in Texas – because the Texans who happened to be polled would usually not be a good representation of the range of views held by all Texans. Furthermore, for many smaller areas across the country, such as a rural county, there would not usually be a single respondent from that area in a national poll. more...

Communities for a Better Environment leads environmental justice tours, such as this one in East Oakland, CA. Flickr CC photo by Brooke Anderson.
Communities for a Better Environment leads environmental justice tours, such as this one in East Oakland, CA. Flickr CC photo by Brooke Anderson.

Environmental problems create especially heavy burdens for poor and minority communities. As three decades of research have shown, these communities host a disproportionate number of landfills, contaminated properties, incinerators, and other polluting facilities, many of which can cause serious health problems. Epidemiological research on health risks reveals that low-income and minority groups have higher rates of asthma, impaired lung function and other respiratory ailments as well as cardiovascular disease. All of these adverse health conditions are caused or exacerbated by exposure to pollution. Underprivileged communities can also be at greater risk from severe weather developments, which are expected to increase with climate change.

The Pursuit of Environmental Justice

Environmental justice has been on the federal government’s agenda now for twenty years, in no small measure due to effective advocacy by grassroots organizations and scholar-activists who have pushed since the 1980s for fairness in environmental protection. The federal government responded with new policy mandates, administrative reorganization, research and data collection programs, enhanced outreach and efforts to build community capacity – and, most notably, with a presidential executive order on environmental justice. Signed by President Bill Clinton on February 11, 1994, Executive Order 12898 called on each federal agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” more...

New volunteers gather at the Western Washington University Low Income Housing Institute. Photo by City of Seattle Community Tech via Flickr CC.
New volunteers gather at the Western Washington University Low Income Housing Institute. Photo by City of Seattle Community Tech via Flickr CC.


Educators and political leaders exhort Americans to be more civically engaged. Across the country, high schools require community “service learning” projects in the hope that students will pick up good habits. Local newscasts regularly tell people how they can “make a difference” by volunteering – joining walks to end hunger, tutoring a child, or re-painting an elderly person’s home for free. Civic action seems to be accomplished outside of the constraints – and bad influences – of money and bureaucracy, a matter of volunteering a few hours a week serving others; and it is portrayed as a sure-fire way to weave connections and trusting ties among otherwise atomized citizens. But my co-author and I have reviewed many studies and done our own close-up research on housing advocacy, youth service networks, and a variety of other civic undertakings. We find the standard images to be quite misleading.

Forms of Civic Action

At its core, civic action means ordinary citizens working together to address public problems and help determine the fortunes of communities, nation, and the world. Yet in our time, “improving” can mean vastly different things – and the activities used to improve society vary considerably.

  • Consider a parent club that raises money to fund after-school programs for disadvantaged kids, a protest vigil outside a clinic that provides abortions, or a citizen’s task force on toxic waste disposal. All involve citizens who volunteer for a shared project.
  • But consider, also, housing professionals who devise complicated plans to develop affordable apartments that rent at below-market rates. They, too, aim to improve society.

As these examples show, participatory collective efforts to improve society may be more or less professionalized, paid or done for free, informally or bureaucratically organized. more...

A newly naturalized citizen displays her certificate. U.S. Navy photo.
A newly naturalized citizen displays her certificate. U.S. Navy photo.

Current debates about immigration reform focus on whether or not there will be a “path to citizenship” for the eleven million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States – and, if so, how long the road will be. Citizenship brings new rights and opportunities for individuals and families, and the country as a whole also has a stake in drawing into full citizenship both legal and undocumented newcomers. Otherwise America may face growing gaps in life chances among groups with different immigration and citizenship statuses. Across many decades of U.S. history, grants of citizenship, or refusals, have been used to incorporate masses of newcomers from Europe and exclude others, such as those from many Asian countries. Today, citizenship status has again become an axis of inequality that exacerbates other disparities grounded in class and race. Denying undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, opportunities to get on a path to citizenship is one obvious source of continuing inequality. In addition, my research shows that barriers to citizenship status also exist for many newcomers with legal permanent resident status – so-called “green card” holders. The difficulties these immigrants face magnify inequalities in American society as a whole.

Access to Citizenship for Legal Residents

Citizenship can, in principle, be obtained by immigrants who already have “green cards,” or documents that demonstrate their legal permanent status in the United States and meet a range of criteria. Access to permanent legal residency itself is restricted. Most commonly, immigrants obtain green cards through close relatives who are already citizens or permanent residents. Many others do so through employment or by claiming refugee status. Residents of countries that are relatively underrepresented in the United States may be able to win green cards in a lottery. Once they gain permanent legal resident status, most immigrants must wait five years to apply for citizenship – and they then must pay hefty fees, fill out detailed applications, and undergo interviews and testing by immigration officials, all before, finally, attending a swearing-in ceremony that makes their newly gained citizenship official. Some legal residents have a slightly easier path. Those married to U.S. citizens wait three years instead of five, and members of the military may currently apply when they enlist. In response to anti-immigrant measures at national, state, and local levels, applications for citizen status have increased in recent years. Nevertheless, fewer than half of immigrants in the U.S. have become citizens, and the U.S. take-up rate is much lower than rates in sister immigration destinations such as Canada and Australia.

Who Gains Citizenship?

Commentators noting the low uptake of U.S. citizenship have raised concerns about the loyalty of new immigrants and difficulties in the naturalization process. In addition, uneven citizenship intersects with and exacerbates other dimensions of inequality in American society. In a study of data from the U.S. Census, I found that immigrants with less than high school education are increasingly less likely to be citizens compared to more educated immigrants. In 1970, the level of education did not make much difference for whether immigrants had become citizens, but by 2000 a large education gap had appeared. Immigrants with higher levels of income are also more likely to gain citizenship. In short, during an era when inequality has grown overall in the United States, citizenship status is being attained much more unequally by more and less privileged legal residents.

Racial disparities are also growing. Hispanic immigrants, whether black or white, have the lowest levels of citizenship, while non-Hispanic blacks and whites, as well as Asians, all gain citizenship at about average rates. This finding cannot be explained away by the higher representation of Hispanic immigrants among the undocumented, who are not eligible for citizenship; even among legal Hispanic permanent residents, the uptake of citizenship for the largest group, Mexicans, is low. By countries of origin, the lowest proportions gaining citizenship are found among Guatemalan, Mexican, and Salvadoran immigrants, and the highest proportions occur among immigrants from Vietnam and the Philippines.

Why Uneven Access to Citizenship Matters

It is unfortunate that access to citizenship is increasingly paralleling other disparities in U.S. society, because citizenship status promises access to the full civil liberties and rights, making immigrants almost equal to native-born Americans. The right to vote and to run for most political offices is reserved for citizens. For individual immigrants, citizenship expands job opportunities across the economic spectrum – opening posts ranging from state-licensed cosmetician to police officer and making it possible to compete for government fellowships, grants, and contracts. Citizenship also allows newcomers to bring other family members through reunification rules, and eases connections between the United States and immigrant countries of origin. For the immigrants who may fall on hard times, citizenship status improves access to welfare benefits. Perhaps most important, citizenship provides a sense of security and permanency by fully protecting immigrants from threats of deportation.

Citizenship benefits not only newcomers and their families, but also communities and the nation as a whole. For example, because Hispanics are often not citizens, this minority group, now the largest in the United States, has much less political clout than its sheer numbers might suggest. Although legal resident noncitizens can and do engage in political activity, their inability to vote and run for office reduces their political efficacy; and along with undocumented immigrants, they are at risk for deportation. The estimated twenty-two million noncitizen immigrants add up to a troubling indicator for the health of American democracy, because these people live, work, raise families, and contribute to their communities, but are excluded from the innermost circle of membership in the nation. Hundreds of thousands of legal resident immigrants become eligible to apply for citizenship every year. And comprehensive immigration reform, if Congress acts, it could put many currently undocumented on the path to citizenship in the future. Everyone who cares about reducing socioeconomic and racial inequalities in the United States should want to address inequalities in citizenship acquisition by legal residents and support full access to citizenship for the undocumented.

Sofya Aptekar is in the sociology department at UMass–Boston. She is the author of The Road to Citizenship: What Naturalization Means for Immigrants and the United States.