Integration into American society of millions of Mexicans with Legal Permanent Residence is a major chapter of the modern American immigrant experience and a key dimension of contemporary U.S.-Mexico relations. This is, however, an uneven process with advances and challenges that are obscured from view by an exaggerated image of Mexican migration as illegal.

This Mexico Institute Brief features new data obtained from the Office of Immigration Statistics of the Department of Homeland Security on the last twenty-five years of legal and legalized Mexican immigration.

The Institute organized a research workshop in Los Angeles using this data in October 2011, titled The Challenge of Immigrant Integration.

The data principally reveal the leading role that Mexico plays as a source of legal immigration to the United States — over 5 million legal and legalized Mexican immigrants since 1985 — and how this immigration has increasingly settled across the country over time; how widely the rate at which these immigrants are becoming citizens varies between different regions of the country and even within single states; and consequently the large number — perhaps over 3 million — of these immigrants who would have been eligible but had not become citizens by the end of 2010. These findings argue for the need to fashion policy and citizenship promotion efforts specifically addressed to unnaturalized immigrants in at least three distinguishable situations: the long-term eligible who may qualify to become citizens under an eased set of testing requirements; Mexican immigrants who have settled in non-traditional and rural areas of the country, at some distance from more established co-ethnic communities; and those immigrants who become newly eligible to apply for citizenship every year, but who may not be fully aware of their eligibility.