It has been argued by many that legal residents who go through the process of becoming a U.S. Citizen leads those individuals to uncertainty and insecurity about their identity and where their loyalties lie. Loyalty at one level may mean being considered disloyal at another. However, many people believe that how an individual understands their place in various communities of which they are a part of influences not only how they participate in society but also other communities in which they align themselves.
Picture [ 1 ]: New American Citizens. Photo by McDonald
Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes an American citizen. It is a voluntary act; naturalization is not required. The first naturalization law approved by Congress happened in 1790 through much of the 20th century, an alien could become naturalized in any court of record, and people went to a court that was convenient to them (Prechtel-Kluskens). After living in the United States for at least 2 years, an alien could file a “declaration of intent” to become a citizen. This basically meant a petition. After the petition was accepted, a certificate was presented to the alien. From 1790 to 1922, wives of naturalized men by default became citizens.
This meant that an alien woman who married a U.S. Citizen automatically become a citizen (Smith, Marian L.). Fast forward to 2013, the qualifications to become a U.S. Citizen have changed drastically. First and foremost you have to have a Green Card. Not having a Green Card prevents you from applying for U.S. Citizenship. It does not matter if the individual just wed a citizen of the United States, won the visa lottery, or put in $5 billion in to the U.S. economy. In addition people have to spend at least 5 years as a lawful permanent resident, unless he or she is married to a U.S. Citizen then only can they apply after 3 years.
They also have to be older than eighteen to serve in the military if needed in time of crisis. The Naturalization test consists of an oral and written exam, which then proceeds to an interview with a USCIS officer. The USCIS officer does not expect people going through the process to sound like an English college professor but more so test that they are able to communicate in English and hold a conversation. It is encouraged that the individual put as much effort into wanting to learn English because this will make them feel at ease and will aid if the USCIS interviewer asks a question using a different word than they were expecting (For example, spouse instead of husband).
Chart [ 1 ]: U.S. Permanent Cards V.S. U.S. Naturalization
In the written test the USCIS officer will ask the individual to write down two or more sentences that he or she says out loud. These sentences are provided automatically for the officer to use. The sentences for the most part are not difficult, but it is better if the individual writes them properly. Spelling and punctuation is important but getting the right meaning is the key to success. Last but not least, the U.S. History and Government Exam. The exam consists of basic civil right knowledge. Usually when people go through the biometrics process (For the background check) the USCIS officer will offer a book called, “Learn About The United States: Quick Civic Lessons for The Naturalization Test”. This book contains one hundred questions that the USCIS officer will ask.
Out of one hundred questions, the officer will only ask 10 and the individual has to get at least seven correct to pass. However many individuals spend their entire lives in the U.S. without ever trading their Green Card for citizenship. Reasons vary as to why some don’t want to go through the process, which mainly consist that the individual wants to demonstrate fidelity to their country of origin, some are simply just worried that they will not pass their citizenship exam, or some procrastinate and never come around to completing it. Moreover recent studies done by Homeland Security have shown that in the last couple years more people are going through the citizenship process (Refer to Chart 1). When applying for U.S. Citizenship all background information is checked up to the point of how the Green Card is obtained and in some instances can uncover whatever is hiding, which can mean removal from the U.S. (deportation).
For example Bray wrote, “Leticia applied for a green card as the unmarried child of a permanent resident. Leticia was then put on a waiting list for a number of years, during which she fell in love. Then she finally received her green card. She didn’t mention her marriage and the U.S. consulate forgot to ask. However if she mentioned she got married, her green card would have been revoked, because the category she applied in was meant only for unwed children. When Leticia applies for citizenship, she lists the date of when she wed. The USCIS officer notices that the marriage occurred before Leticia’s green card and now Leticia faces removal proceedings.” The cons of going through the Naturalization process are that there are some countries that may not allow dual citizenship or the individual is not permitted to serve their country of origin in times of conflict. However U.S. law concerning dual citizenship is very unclear.
Nowhere does it say that you cannot be a dual citizen–but then, nowhere does it say that you can. The pros of becoming a U.S. Citizen is that it is defiantly an upgrade from having to carry around a permanent resident card, not having to renew a Green Card every ten years and paying the fee associated with renewing. Peace of mind about not carrying an important document and going through a whole heck of a lot to obtain a new card if it is lost or stolen. Another benefit of becoming a citizen is the right to vote and obtain certain federal jobs. Citizens can also live or take longer trips outside of the United States and even have the right to apply for public benefits and international protection. Additional benefits include bringing family members from another country and students can receive more financial aid.
In order to be eligible for citizenship Bray writes, “The individual has to be a permanent resident for five years, but fewer for certain categories of applicants. They have to be ‘physically’ present-that is, living in the U.S., for at least the required years of permanent residence. Demonstrate good moral character in the years leading up to the application for naturalization–some examples include, paying taxes, child support and not committing any crimes.” After going through all the steps mentioned and finally being approved for citizenship the individual has to pass one last important step, the Oath Ceremony. Although it might be the last step and the most important because without it Green Cardholders are not considered citizens and must continue to maintain eligibility for citizenship, which means that in this time frame it is essential that they don’t do anything to jeopardize it.
Furthermore, after completing the entire process mentioned the Green Cardholder is now a U.S. Citizen. However his or her duties to this country are not over. Many people fought and continue fighting for this country and it’s liberty. The aim of citizenship is an individual’s relationship to the nation state. Citizenship education is to build a common identity and a shared history, and to encourage patriotism and loyalty to the nation state. It offers new citizens the opportunity to contribute to their new country while providing additional benefits. The U.S. is not “multi-cultural” – it is multi-racial. There are many ethnicities from many backgrounds and traditions, but they are united under the one American culture a unifying culture.
Bray, I. M. (2008). Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview. Berkeley, CA: Nolo. Claire Prechtel-Kluskens (Nov. 1996). “The Location of Naturalization Records.” The Record, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 21-22. Marian L. Smith (1998). “Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940,” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives. McDonald , D. (Photographer). (n.d.). New American Citizens [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/new-american-citizens-high-res-stock-photography/146653529 Scott, D., & Lawson, H. (2002). Citizenship Education and the Curriculum. Westport, Conn: Ablex Pub. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2013). Citizenship Resource Center. Retrieved from website: www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.2182d258012d5eb62b6859c7526e0aa0/vgnextoid=37decf2351488210VgnVCM10000025e6a00aRCRD U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2013). Learn About The United States: Quick Civic Lessons for The Naturalization Test. Washington, DC: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.