US Citizenship: Rights, Responsibilities & Naturalization Process

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, we will consider the expectations placed on U.S. citizens, particularly immigrants who undergo naturalization. Learn the specific rights of citizens as well and what makes citizenship different than permanent residency.

Beyond The Passport

Imagine you're traveling to visit another country and the customs officials stop you to question you before allowing you entrance. Passport in hand, you explain your visit and make your way through the process without incident. That passport, issued by whatever country you call home, is one of the rights you have as a citizen of that nation. This lesson will discuss the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship that go beyond a passport. We'll also discuss the path to citizenship for immigrants, known as naturalization.

A passport is just one of the privileges of citizenship.
US Passport

From Green Card to Citizen

Imagine a man named Paulo was born in another country. He found a job that sponsored him to work in the U.S., and as a result he has been living legally in Arizona for five years now. Paulo is able to do this because he was granted permanent residency. Just like your passport is your proof that your are a United States citizen, Paulo's proof that he is a permanent resident is his document called a green card.

Finding a job that is willing to act as a sponsor is one way people can immigrate to the United States legally. Some people are able to immigrate if they have family members who are citizens or permanent residents and are willing to act as sponsors. Other people come as refugees, meaning they have fled their home countries because of bad conditions and seek asylum in the United States.

Now that Paulo is here, he must follow certain rules for a certain period of time. For example, he must not commit any crimes. Even a minor crime could mean Paulo's permanent residency could be revoked and he could be deported. Paulo is also expected to learn important aspect of U.S. government, important facts about U.S. history, and he must be able to speak basic English. He will be required to take tests and undergo interviews to make sure he has met these qualifications. During each step of the process, there will be forms to file and the possibility that his application will be questioned or rejected.

During their time as permanent residents, some people chose to become part of the U.S. military. Some people chose to marry U.S. citizens. If these things happen, a permanent resident may be eligible to undergo naturalization and become a U.S. citizen in as few as three years. If not, he or she will have to wait five years before applying for citizenship.

If Paulo follows all of the rules, passes the tests, and his interview goes well, he will be granted citizenship, and he will move on to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Among other things, this means that Paulo will defend the United States and its Constitution.

Rights of Citizens

As a permanent resident, Paulo was allowed to hold a job, and he was protected under the law, but, as a citizen, he now has a new set of rights. Now he can vote in elections. He can also be considered for certain government jobs that require citizenship, and he can even become an elected official himself! These are just some of the ways that Paulo may choose to express his political views.

Citizens have the right to vote and run for political office.
President Obama at the voting booth

There's another right that is of great importance to Paulo, who had to leave behind his family five years ago when he took the job in Arizona. He is able to petition to bring his family to the U.S. permanently. This doesn't mean that his petition will definitely be granted; it is not an automatic process. Yet as a citizen, Paulo's chances are much better of bringing his family into the country legally.

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