Becoming a citizen
We are all citizens – of various entities: a classroom, workplace, family, neighborhood, world and the nation.
We are a country made up largely of immigrants. Unless you are of Native American heritage, chances are your forefathers and foremothers came to the United States in search of the opportunity for a new life in a new land as citizens of the United States.
Citizenship involves rights and responsibilities. Being a citizen of a country includes the right of living, working and voting, as well as the duties of being a responsible member of the community, obeying laws, defending against enemies and, of course, paying taxes.
This election cycle has stirred up much discussion and emotion about who and how people can and should become citizens of our country. There are millions of people wanting to become Americans and nearly as many opinions about what to do about them. This got me curious – about the current process and the requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen.
There was lot to learn.
It’s not a simple process, but then again, nothing worthwhile is ever simple. For starters, don’t even think about becoming a citizen until you’ve been a permanent resident of the country and in possession of a green card for five years. Other requirements include having good moral character (not sure how they measure that one), an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution, a basic understanding of U.S. history and government, a willingness to take the Oath of Allegiance and the ability to read, write and speak basic English. That last one surprised me a bit.
There is a 20-page application for citizenship. It makes sense that the government you wish to join would be interested in the details about you. Questions about former membership in terrorist groups, the Communist party, Nazi affiliations, past aliases and a predisposition for overthrowing governments are to be expected.
The necessity of renouncing any titles or familial nobility surprised me. Once a noble always a noble – but I guess not.
They also ask about appearance – height, weight and so on. When listing hair color, they provide a choice for bald. That’s good to know in case Vladimir ever decides to come our way.
In addition to the application, there are two tests all potential citizens must pass. One is a civics test; the other an English test.
People desiring U.S. citizenship are required to demonstrate a semi-mastery of the English language, unless they qualify for an exemption, which is reserved for older adults who have been in the country for 15 or 20-plus years (depending on age).
Sample tests are available online. Interestingly, the civics portion is provided in both English and Spanish – not a judgment, just an observation. I used the English version and am proud to announce I passed on my first try. Not sure I’d do so well with Spanish.
Civics questions asked test takers to name one U.S. territory. There are five. Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa (the island, not the Girl Scout cookie).
Another was: What does the President’s Cabinet do? They do not house his liquor. It’s not that kind of cabinet. The answer is they advise the President.
Finally: Name two rights declared in the Declaration of Independence. There are actually three: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I guess immigration officials believe two out of three ain’t bad.
After passing both tests, completing the entire application and paying the $595 application fee, along with an additional fingerprinting charge (DO NOT SEND CASH), there are still a couple of U.S. hoops to maneuver through. Applicants must take an oath to renounce any foreign citizenship (don’t forget the nobility) and support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, so help me God.
I was born in the United States. I have to admit it’s something I’ve sort of taken for granted. Knowing 11 million people would like to stand in my shoes is humbling. As is the process they are willing to go through to claim U.S. citizenship.
I don’t have all the answers as to how we should move forward with this great melting pot of ours, but my small amount of research has given me new appreciation for what being born in the United States means (or should mean) to each of us. At least it did for me.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.