Does Naturalization Increase Years of Education? Effect of IRCA on Educational Attainment of Undocumented Immigrant Children




Solheim, Aimee

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This paper studies the effect of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”) on the educational attainment of undocumented immigrant children. IRCA provided a path to citizenship for over 3 million undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States. I use data from the American Community Survey 5-Year Public Use Sample for the period 2013 through 2017 to estimate the effect on completed educational attainment. Using a differences-in-differences model, I compare childhood immigrants who arrived before the 1982 cutoff to those who arrived after. The second difference compares those who were born in countries with high applications rates (“high take-up”) and with low application rates (“low take-up”). Unexpectedly, I find no evidence that IRCA improved education outcomes. I even find partial evidence that IRCA decreased educational attainment, but this effect is primarily driven by Mexico. After dropping Mexico, I find a “zero” effect, making it unclear whether the relationship is due to unobservable changes in Mexican immigration or to the policy.