Under the U.S. Constitution and laws of the United States, the status of citizenship entitles possessors, whether native born or naturalized, to all established civil rights and also includes the duty of rendering allegiance to the country.
According to U.S. law, a person can obtain U.S. citizenship in one of two ways: as a result of birth or as a result of naturalization. Birthright citizenship is automatically granted to a person whose parents are citizens
U.S. citizens possess a number of constitutional rights that cannot be claimed by
Individual state constitutions, as well as federal and state legislation, have placed many additional restrictions on the rights and privileges of noncitizens. Although the
Nevertheless, the Constitution and U.S. laws guarantee many rights for
For the most part citizens by naturalization are guaranteed the same legal rights as citizens by birth. Two significant exceptions apply, however. First, the U.S. Constitution explicitly states that only a natural-born citizen can serve as the president. Second, although the Supreme Court held in
In addition to legal rights, the status of citizenship is often desired because of its social and symbolic significance. Citizenship provides many persons with a sense of belonging; it has the meaning of full membership within a national community. When persons are classified as “foreigners” or “aliens,” citizens tend to look upon them as outsiders, as “them,” rather than as “us.”
In view of the importance of immigration in U.S. history, it is not surprising that the issue of how to become a citizen has often been controversial. The original Constitution, as ratified in 1789, said nothing about birthright citizenship. Consequently, the English common-law rules of
Newly naturalized American citizen holding his certificate of naturalization after a ceremony in San Francisco in which more than 1,400 immigrants were sworn in as citizens.
Following ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, there was some debate about the legal status of
Until 1922, the
Ineligibility because of political opinion has historically been a prominent feature in U.S. naturalization law. In
Another important addition to U.S. naturalization law was the
In order for adult immigrants to become naturalized citizens in the early twenty-first century, they generally had to live within the country as permanent residents for five years, during which time they had to demonstrate “good moral character.” Disqualifying moral behaviors included drug abuse, prostitution, illegal gambling, terrorism, polygamy, Communist Party membership, advocacy of violent revolution, and lying to immigration officials. Applicants also had to demonstrate an ability to use simple English and pass a test on the history and government of the United States. Finally, applicants had to take an oath promising to give up foreign allegiance, to obey the U.S. Constitution and U.S. laws, and be willing either to fight for the U.S. military or to perform some alternative service useful to the national interest.
Aleinikoff, Thomas A., et al. Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. 6th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 2008. Standard legal textbook that discusses legislation and court cases relating to all aspects of immigration and naturalization. Bosniak, Linda. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006. Philosophical exploration of the question of whether a moral justification exists for historical distinctions between citizens and aliens. Bray, Ilona. Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam, and Interview. 4th ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Nolo Press, 2008. Practical, clearly written guide explaining the advantages and disadvantages of citizenship and current American rules for naturalization. Kim, Hyung-chan. A Legal History of Asian Americans, 1790-1990. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Clearly written book that includes much information about the historical discrimination against Asians in the naturalization process. LeMay, Michael, and Elliott Robert Barkan, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999. Excellent collection of legislative texts, court decisions, and introductory historical essays. Schreuder, Sally A. How to Become a United States Citizen. 5th ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Nolo Press, 1996. Concise guidebook that clearly explains the rules and procedures of the naturalization process. Schuck, Peter. Citizens, Strangers, and In-Betweens: Essays on Immigration and Citizenship. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1998. Collection of thoughtful essays on a large variety of topics by a recognized authority on the legal aspects of immigration and naturalization. Smith, Roger M. Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999. Liberal analysis emphasizing racial and gender discrimination in naturalization laws from the colonial era to the early twentieth century.
Afroyim v. Rusk
Cable Act of 1922
Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.
Naturalization Act of 1790
Oyama v. California
Ozawa v. United States
Permanent resident status
United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
United States v. Wong Kim Ark