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United States Citizen

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United States Citizen

"American citizen" redirects here. For the people, see Americans.

Citizenship in the United States, being a citizen, is a status that entails specific rights, privileges, and duties. Citizenship is understood as a "right to have rights" since it serves as a foundation for a bundle of subsequent rights, such as the right to live and work in the United States and to receive federal assistance.[2]

There are two primary sources of citizenship: birthright citizenship, in which a person is presumed to be a citizen provided that he is born within the territorial limits of the United States,[3] and naturalization, a process in which an immigrant applies for citizenship and is accepted. These two pathways to citizenship are specified in the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution's 1868 Fourteenth Amendment which reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
—from the Fourteenth Amendment.

National citizenship signifies membership in the country as a whole; state citizenship, in contrast, signifies a relation between a person and a particular state and has application generally limited to domestic matters. State citizenship may affect (1) tax decisions and (2) eligibility for some state-provided benefits such as higher education and (3) eligibility for state political posts such as U.S. Senator.

In Article One of the Constitution, the power to establish a "uniform rule of naturalization" is granted explicitly to Congress.

U.S. law permits multiple citizenship. A citizen of another country naturalized as a U.S. citizen may retain their previous citizenship, though they must renounce allegiance to the other country. A U.S. citizen retains U.S. citizenship when becoming the citizen of another country, should that country's laws allow it. Citizenship can be renounced by American citizens who also hold another citizenship via a formal procedure at a U.S. Embassy,[4] and it can also be restored.[5]

Relation of citizenship

Citizenship is the legal status of membership in the United States. Citizens have the right to live and work without fear of deportation. The activities typically associated with citizenship typically include duties and privileges.


  • Jury duty is only imposed upon citizens. Jury duty may be considered the "sole differential obligation" between non-citizens and citizens; the federal and state courts "uniformly exclude non-citizens from jury pools today, and with the exception of a few states in the past, this has always been the case.[6]
  • Military participation is not currently required in the United States, but a policy of conscription of men has been in place at various times (both in war and in peace) in American history, most recently during the Vietnam War. Currently, the United States armed forces are a professional all-volunteer force, although both male U.S. citizens and male non-citizen permanent residents are required to register with the Selective Service System and may be called up in the event of a future draft. Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg writes, "The professional military has limited the need for citizen soldiers."[2]

  • Taxes In the United States today, everyone except those whose income is derived from tax exempt revenue (Subchapter N, Section 861 of the U.S. Tax Code) is required to pay taxes, and this has been the case for many years. The U.S. requires that aliens who are present in the United States, including non-immigrants and illegal immigrants, for more than 180 days must file tax returns.[7] American citizens are subject to federal income tax on worldwide income regardless of their country of residence.[8]


  • Freedom to reside and work. United States citizens have the right to reside and work in the United States. Certain non-citizens, such as permanent residents, have similar rights. However, non-citizens, unlike citizens, may have the right taken away: for example, they may be deported if convicted of a serious crime.
  • Freedom to enter and leave the United States. United States citizens have the right to enter and leave the United States freely. Certain non-citizens, such as permanent residents, have similar rights. Unlike permanent residents, U.S. citizens do not have an obligation to maintain residence in the U.S. -- they can leave for any length of time and return freely at any time.
  • Voting for federal office in all fifty states and the District of Columbia is restricted to citizens only. States are not required to extend the franchise to all citizens: for example, several states bar citizen felons from voting, even after they have completed any custodial sentence. The United States Constitution bars states from restricting citizens from voting on grounds of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay any tax, or age (for citizens who are at least eighteen years old). Historically, many states and local jurisdictions have allowed non-citizens to vote; however, today this is limited to local elections in very few places. Citizens are not compelled to vote.
  • Freedom to stand for public office. The United States Constitution requires that all members of the United States House of Representatives have been citizens for seven years, and that all senators have been citizens for nine years, before taking office. Most states have similar requirements: for example California requires that legislators have been citizens for three years, and the Governor have been a citizen for five years, upon taking office. The U.S. Constitution requires that one be "a natural born Citizen" and a U.S. resident for fourteen years in order to be President of the United States. The Constitution also stipulates that otherwise eligible citizens must meet certain age requirements for these offices.


  • Consular protection outside the United States. While traveling abroad, if a person is arrested or detained by foreign authorities, the person can request to speak to somebody from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Consular officials can provide resources for Americans incarcerated abroad, such as a list of local attorneys who speak English. The U.S. government may even intervene on the person's behalf.[9] Non-citizen U.S. nationals also have this benefit.

  • Increased ability to sponsor relatives living abroad.[9] Several types of immigrant visas require that the person requesting the visa be directly related to a U.S. citizen. Having U.S. citizenship facilitates the granting of IR and F visas to family members.
  • Ability to invest in U.S. real property without triggering FIRPTA. Perhaps the only quantifiable economic benefit of U.S. citizenship, citizens are not subject to additional withholding tax on income and capital gains derived from U.S. real estate under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA).
  • Transmission of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad. Generally, children born to a U.S. citizen abroad are automatically U.S. citizens at birth. When the parents are one U.S. citizen and one non-U.S. citizen, certain conditions about the U.S. citizen's parent's length of time spent in the U.S. need to be met. See United States nationality law for more details.

Civic participation

Civic participation is not required in the United States. There is no requirement to attend town meetings, belong to a political party, or vote in elections. However, a benefit of naturalization is the ability to "participate fully in the civic life of the country."[9] There is disagreement about whether popular lack of involvement in politics is helpful or harmful. Vanderbilt professor Dana D. Nelson suggests that most Americans merely vote for president every four years, and that's all they do, and she sees this pattern as undemocratic. In her book Bad for Democracy, Nelson argues that declining citizen participation in politics is unhealthy for long term prospects for democracy. However, writers such as Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic see benefits to non-involvement; he wrote "the very indifference of most people allows for a calm and healthy political climate."[13] Kaplan elaborated: "Apathy, after all, often means that the political situation is healthy enough to be ignored. The last thing America needs is more voters—particularly badly educated and alienated ones—with a passion for politics."[13] He argued that civic participation, in itself, is not always a sufficient condition to bring good outcomes, and pointed to authoritarian societies such as Singapore which prospered because it had "relative safety from corruption, from breach of contract, from property expropriation, and from bureaucratic inefficiency."[14]

Dual citizenship

A person who is considered a citizen by more than one nation has dual citizenship. It is possible for a United States citizen to have dual citizenship; this can be achieved in various ways, such as by birth in the United States to a parent, or in certain circumstances even grandparent, who is a citizen of a foreign country, by birth in another country to a parent(s) who is/are a United States citizen/s, or by having parents who are citizens of different countries. Anyone who becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen is required to renounce any prior "allegiance" to other countries during the naturalization ceremony;[15] however, this renunciation of allegiance is generally not considered renunciation of citizenship to those countries.[16]

Under certain circumstances there are relevant distinctions between dual citizens who hold a "substantial contact" with a country, for example by holding a passport or by residing in the country for a certain period of time, and those who do not. For example, under the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2008, U.S. citizens in general are subject to an security clearance.

United States citizens are required by federal law to identify themselves with a U.S. passport, not with any other foreign passport, when entering or leaving the US.[18] The Supreme Court case of Afroyim v. Rusk declared that a U.S. citizen did not lose his citizenship by voting in an election in a foreign country, or by acquiring foreign citizenship, if such acts did not require him to explicitly renounce his U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens who have dual citizenship do not lose their United States citizenship unless they renounce it officially.[19]

History of citizenship in the United States

Citizenship began in colonial times as an active relation between people working cooperatively to solve municipal problems and participating actively in democratic decision-making, such as in New England town hall meetings. People met regularly to discuss local affairs and make decisions. These town meetings were described as the "earliest form of American democracy"[20] which was vital since citizen participation in public affairs helped keep democracy "sturdy", according to Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835.[21] A variety of forces changed this relation during the nation's history. Citizenship became less defined by participation in politics and more defined as a legal relation with accompanying rights and privileges. While the realm of civic participation in the public sphere has shrunk,[22][23][24] the citizenship franchise has been expanded[25] to include not just propertied white adult men but African-American men[26] and adult women.[27]

Birthright citizenship

U.S. citizenship is usually acquired by birth when a child is born in the territory of the United States. In addition to the U.S. States, this includes the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.[28][29][30] Citizenship, however, was not specified in the original Constitution. In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment specifically defined persons who were either born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction as citizens. All babies born in the United States—except those born to enemy aliens in wartime or the children of foreign diplomats—enjoy U.S. citizenship under the Supreme Court's long-standing interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.[31] The amendment states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." [32] There remains dispute as to who is "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States at birth.[33]

By acts of Congress, every person born in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands is a United States citizen by birth.[34] Also, every person born in the former Panama Canal Zone whose father or mother (or both) are or were a citizen is a United States citizen by birth.[35]

Regardless of where they are born, children of U.S. citizens are U.S. citizens in most cases. Children born outside the United States with at least one U.S. citizen parent usually have birthright citizenship by parentage.

While persons born in the United States are considered to be citizens and can have passports, children under age eighteen are legally considered to be minors and cannot vote or hold office. Upon the event of their eighteenth birthday, they are considered full citizens but there is no ceremony acknowledging this relation or any correspondence between the new citizen and the government to this effect. Citizenship is assumed to exist, and the relation is assumed to remain viable until death or until it is renounced or dissolved by some other legal process. Secondary schools teach the basics of citizenship and create "informed and responsible citizens" who are "skilled in the arts of effective deliberation and action."[36]

Americans who live in foreign countries and become members of other governments have, in some instances, been stripped of citizenship, although there have been court cases where decisions regarding citizenship have been reversed.[37]

Naturalized citizenship

Acts of Congress provide for acquisition of citizenship by persons born abroad.[38]

Agency in charge

The agency in charge of admitting new citizens is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, commonly abbreviated as USCIS.[39] It is a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. It offers web-based services.[40] The agency depends on application fees for revenue; in 2009, with a struggling economy, applications were down sharply, and consequently there was much less revenue to upgrade and streamline services.[40] There was speculation that if the administration of president Barack Obama passes immigration reform, then the agency could face a "welcome but overwhelming surge of Americans-in-waiting" and longer processing times for citizenship applications.[40] The USCIS has made efforts to digitize records.[41] A USCIS website says the "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is committed to offering the best possible service to you, our customer"[42] and which says "With our focus on customer service, we offer you a variety of services both before and after you file your case."[42] The website allowed applicants to estimate the length of time required to process specific types of cases, to check application status, and to access a customer guide.[42] The USCIS processes cases in the order they're received.[42]

Pathways to citizenship

People applying to become citizens must satisfy certain requirements. For example, there have been requirements for applicants to have lived in the nation for five years (three if married to a U.S. citizen,) be of "good moral character" meaning no felony convictions, be of "sound mind" in the judgment of immigration officials, have knowledge of the Constitution, and be able to speak and understand English unless they are elderly or disabled.[43] Applicants must also pass a simple citizenship test.[43] Up until recently, a test published by the Immigration and Naturalization Service asked questions such as "How many stars are there in our flag?" and "What is the Constitution?" and "Who is the president of the United States today?"[43] At one point, the Government Printing Office sold flashcards for $8.50 to help test takers prepare for the test.[44] In 2006, the government replaced the former trivia test with a ten-question oral test designed to "shun simple historical facts about America that can be recounted in a few words for more explanation about the principles of American democracy, such as freedom."[39] One reviewer described the new citizenship test as "thoughtful."[40] While some have criticized the new version of the test, officials counter that the new test is a "teachable moment" without making it conceptually more difficult, since the list of possible questions and answers, as before, will be publicly available.[39] Six correct answers constitutes a passing grade.[39] The new test probes for signs that immigrants "understand and share American values."[39]

  • Military participation is often a way for immigrant residents to become citizens. Since many people seek citizenship for its financial and social benefits, the promise of citizenship can be seen as a means of motivating persons to do dangerous activities such as fight in wars. For example, a 2009 article in the New York Times said that the United States Military was recruiting "skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas" by promising an opportunity to become citizens "in as little as six months" in exchange for service in Afghanistan and Iraq where US forces are "stretched thin."[45] The option was not open to illegal immigrants.[45] One estimate was that in 2009 the US military had 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving who were not American citizens.[45] Spouses of citizens or non-citizens who served in the military also have less difficulty becoming citizens. One analyst noted that "many immigrants, not yet citizens, have volunteered to serve in the United States military forces ... Some have been killed and others wounded ... Perhaps this can be seen as a cynical attempt to qualify more easily for U.S. citizenship ... But I think that service in the U.S. military has to be taken as a pretty serious commitment to the United States."[46] Immigrant soldiers who fight for the US often have an easier and faster path to citizenship.[47] In 2002, President Bush signed an executive order to eliminate the three-year waiting period and made service personnel immediately eligible for citizenship.[47] In 2003, Congress voted to "cut the waiting period to become a citizen from three years down to one year" for immigrants who had served in the armed forces.[47] In 2003, of 1.4 million service members, 37,000 active-duty members were not citizens, and of these, 20 percent had applied for citizenship.[47] By June 2003, 12 non-citizens had died fighting for the United States in the Iraqi war.[47] The military has had a tradition of "filling out its ranks" with aliens living in the U.S.[48] Non-citizens fought in World War II.[48] The military has struggled to "fill its depleted ranks" by recruiting more non-US citizens.[49] But there is considerable anxiety about using foreigners to serve in the U.S. armed forces. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as saying: "When Rome went out and hired mercenary soldiers, Rome fell."[48]
  • Grandparent rule. One obscure ruling of section 322 of a 1994 immigration law enabled persons to emigrate to the United States if they could prove that a grandparent was a citizen.[50] In 2006, there were 4,000 applications of citizenship through grandparents. While parents of any nationality can use the law, Israelis comprise 90% of those taking advantage of the clause.[50]

Strong demand

According to a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, "Citizenship is a very, very valuable commodity."[51] However, one study suggested legal residents eligible for citizenship, but who don't apply, tend to have low incomes (41 percent), do not speak English well (60 percent), or have low levels of education (25 percent).[9] There is strong demand for citizenship based on the numbers of applications filed.[51] From 1920 to 1940, the number of immigrants to the United States who became citizens numbered about 200,000 each year; there was a spike after World War II, and then the level reduced to about 150,000 per year until resuming to the 200,000 level beginning about 1980.[52] In the mid-1990s to 2009, the levels rose to about 500,000 per year with considerable variation.[52] In 1996, more than one million people became citizens through naturalization.[53] In 1997, there were 1.41 million applications filed; in 2006, 1.38 million.[51] In the mid-1990s, the number of naturalized citizens in the United States rose from 6.5 million to 11 million in 2002.[54] By 2003, the pool of immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens was 8 million, and of these, 2.7 million lived in California.[54] In 2003, the number of new citizens from naturalization was 463,204.[10] In 2007, the number was 702,589.[10] In 2007, 1.38 million people applied for citizenship creating a backlog.[51] In 2008, applications decreased to 525,786.[51]

Naturalization fees were $60 in 1989; $90 in 1991; $95 in 1994; $225 in 1999; $260 in 2002; $320 in 2003; $330 in 2005.[55] Application fees were increased from $330 to $595 and an additional $80 computerized fingerprinting fee was added.[51] The high fees have been criticized as putting up one more wall to citizenship.[39] Increases in fees for citizenship have drawn criticism.[56] Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner, doubted that fee increases deter citizenship-seekers.[51] In 2009, the number of immigrants applying for citizenship plunged 62 percent; reasons cited were the slowing economy and the cost of naturalization.[51]

Citizenship ceremonies

The citizenship process has been described as a ritual that is meaningful for many immigrants.[39] Many new citizens are sworn in during Fourth of July ceremonies.[10] Most citizenship ceremonies take place at offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.[5] However, one swearing-in ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in 2008.[5] The judge who chose this venue explained: "I did it to honor our country's warriors and to give the new citizens a sense for what makes this country great."[5] According to federal law, citizenship applicants who are also changing their names must appear before a federal judge.[5]

Honorary citizenship

The title of "Honorary Citizen of the United States" has been granted seven times by an act of Congress or by a proclamation issued by the President pursuant to authorization granted by Congress. The seven individuals are Sir Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, William Penn, Hannah Callowhill Penn, Mother Teresa, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Casimir Pulaski.

Sometimes, the government awarded non-citizen immigrants who died fighting for American forces with the posthumous title of U.S. citizenship, but this is not considered honorary citizenship.[47] In June 2003, Congress approved legislation to help families of fallen non-citizen soldiers.[47]

Corporate citizenship

There is a sense in which corporations can be considered as "citizens." Since corporations are considered as persons in the eyes of the law, then it is possible to think of corporations as being like citizens. For example, the airline Virgin America asked the United States Department of Transportation to be treated as an American air carrier.[57] The advantage of "citizenship" is having the protection and support of the United States government when jockeying with foreign governments for access to air routes and overseas airports.[57] A competitor of Virgin America called Alaska Airlines asked for a review of the situation; according to "U.S. law, foreign ownership in a U.S. air carrier is limited to 25% of the voting interest in the carrier", but executives at Virgin America insisted the airline met this requirement.[57]

For the purposes of diversity jurisdiction in United States civil procedure, corporate citizenship is determined by the principal place of business of the corporation. There is some degree of disagreement among legal authorities as to how exactly this may be determined.

Another sense of "corporate citizenship" is a way to show support for causes such as social issues and the environment and, indirectly, gain a kind of "reputational advantage."[58]


The issue of citizenship naturalization is a highly contentious matter in American politics, particularly regarding illegal immigrants. Candidates in the 2008 presidential election such as Rudolph Giuliani tried to "carve out a middle ground" on the issue of illegal immigration, but rivals such as John McCain advocated legislation requiring illegal immigrants to first leave the country before being eligible to apply as citizens.[59] Some measures to require proof of citizenship upon registering to vote have met with controversy.[60]

Issues such as whether to include questions about current citizenship status in census questions have been debated in the Senate.[43] Generally, there tends to be controversy when citizenship impacts political issues. For example, issues such as asking questions about citizenship on the United States Census tend to cause controversy.[61] Census data affects state electoral clout; it also affects budgetary allocations.[61] Including non-citizens in Census counts also shifts political power to states that have large numbers of non-citizens due to the fact that reapportionment of congressional seats is based on Census data.[62]

There have been controversies based on speculation about which way newly naturalized citizens are likely to vote. Since immigrants from many countries have been presumed to vote Democratic if naturalized, there have been efforts by Democratic administrations to streamline citizenship applications before elections to increase turnout; Republicans, in contrast, have exerted pressure to slow down the process.[63] In 1997, there were efforts to strip the citizenship of 5,000 newly approved immigrants who, it was thought, had been "wrongly naturalized"; a legal effort to do this presented enormous challenges.[63] An examination by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of 1.1 million people who were granted citizenship from September 1995 to September 1996 found 4,946 cases in which a criminal arrest should have disqualified an applicant or in which an applicant lied about his or her criminal history.[63] Before the 2008 election, there was controversy about the speed of the USCIS in processing applications; one report suggested that the agency would complete 930,000 applications in time for the newly processed citizens to vote in the November 2008 election.[64] Foreign-born naturalized citizens tend to vote at the same rates as natives. For example, in the state of New Jersey in the 2008 election, the foreign born represented 20.1 percent of the state's population of 8,754,560; of these, 636,000 were eighteen or older and hence eligible to vote; of eligible voters, 396,000 actually voted, which was about 62%.[65] So foreign-born citizens vote in roughly the same proportion (62%) as native citizens (67%).[65]

There has been controversy about the agency in charge of citizenship. The USCIS has been criticized as being a "notoriously surly, inattentive bureaucracy" with long backlogs in which "would-be citizens spent years waiting for paperwork."[40] Rules made by United States Congress and the federal government regarding citizenship are highly technical and often confusing, and the agency is forced to cope with enforcement within a complex regulatory milieu. There have been instances in which applicants for citizenship have been deported on technicalities.[66] One Pennsylvania doctor and his wife, both from the Philippines who applied for citizenship, and one Mr. Darnell from Canada who was married to an American with two children from this marriage, ran afoul of legal technicalities and faced deportation.[66] The New York Times reported that "Mr. Darnell discovered that a 10-year-old conviction for domestic violence involving a former girlfriend, even though it had been reduced to a misdemeanor and erased from his public record, made him ineligible to become a citizen—or even to continue living in the United States."[66] Overworked federal examiners under pressure to make "quick decisions" as well as "weed out security risks" have been described as preferring "to err on the side of rejection."[66] In 2000, 399,670 applications were denied (about 1/3 of all applications); in 2007, 89,683 applications for naturalization were denied, about 12 percent of those presented.[66]

Generally, eligibility for citizenship is denied for the millions of people living in the United States illegally, although from time to time, there have been amnesties. In 2006, there were mass protests numbering hundreds of thousands of people throughout the US demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants.[67] Many carried banners which read "We Have A Dream Too."[67] One estimate is that there are 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA in 2006.[67] There are many American high school students with citizenship issues.[68] One estimate is that there are 65,000 illegal immigrant students in 2008.[68] A 1982 Supreme Court decision entitled illegal immigrants to free education from kindergarten through high school.[68] But it is less clear about post-secondary education.

Illegal aliens who get arrested face difficulties in the courtroom as they have no constitutional right to challenge the outcome of their deportation hearings.[69] Writer Tom Barry of the Boston Review criticizes the crackdown against illegal immigrants since it has "flooded the federal courts with nonviolent offenders, besieged poor communities, and dramatically increased the U.S. prison population, while doing little to solve the problem itself."[70] Barry criticizes the United States' high incarceration rate as being "fives times greater than the average rate in the rest of the world."[70] Virginia Senator Jim Webb agreed that we are "doing something dramatically wrong in our criminal justice system."[70]

See also

Government of the United States portal


External links

  • How to Become a US citizen - an article on the process of becoming a US citizen
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - Citizenship Resource Center
  • Study materials for the U.S. citizenship civics testde:US-amerikanische Staatsbürgerschaft

es:Ciudadanía estadounidense io:Usana civitaneso it:Cittadinanza statunitense ja:アメリカ合衆国の市民権 zh:美国公民

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