The naturalization process in the United States has offered citizenship to persons born in other countries but the process itself has historically raised issues about fairness, national security concerns, and public perceptions of certain immigrant groups.
The issue of citizenship is so important that naturalization is mentioned within the foundation law of the United States,
When the Framers of the U.S. Constitution considered the issue of naturalization, they decided that Congress should have the power to establish uniform laws and procedures governing the process by which citizens of other countries could become American citizens. Before the Constitution was ratified, naturalization procedures were conducted by the courts of individual states, but the members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 decided that leaving such an important matter to the states would create confusion. They agreed that decisions concerning naturalization should be ruled upon only by courts with common law jurisdiction. It was also necessary for the procedures to be conducted with prothonotaries (court clerks) and official seals.
Congress’s passage of the
The 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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United 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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . .
Swearing in of a new citizen before an New York judge, 1910.
Although the words “All persons born . . . in the United States . . . are citizens” seem unequivocal, there are actually two exceptions to this principle–children of foreign diplomats and children of occupying enemy military personnel.
The 1870 law also established new penalties for fraudulent naturalization applications, and it specified that Asians living in the United States were not eligible for American citizenship. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 further codified these restrictions by forbidding further immigration from China and making even more explicit the ban on naturalization for Chinese residents of the United States. However, a significant challenge to Chinese exclusion came in 1898, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of
In 1862, Congress had passed a law allowing immigrants who had served honorably in the U.S. Army to apply for naturalization after only one year of residence. In 1894, this privilege was extended to honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps who had served a minimum of five years. These measures allowed a significant number of
The Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed by the Immigration Act of 1943, which was also known as the Magnuson Act. Afterward, a steady stream of
By the 1980’s,
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, many American couples looked to other countries to adopt children. The
During the early twenty-first century, immigrants who had attained
Between the mid-1990’s and the early twenty-first century, the number of immigrants who became naturalized citizens increased dramatically. In 1996, there were approximately 6.5 million naturalized citizens in the United States. In 2005, that figure had risen to more than 11 million. By that time, almost one-half of all foreign-born immigrants who were legally residing within the United States had been naturalized. Reasons for this large increase in naturalization included several negative incentives, such as the trend to restrict certain public benefits to U.S. citizens. Another incentive to naturalize was the government’s making the cost of replacing green cards comparable to the cost of applying for naturalization.
Most recently naturalized citizens live in California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois, and most have come from European and Asian nations. However, the fastest-growing segment of the naturalized population comes from Mexico and Central America.
During the late twentieth century, the subject of
Aleinikoff, Thomas A., et al. Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. 6th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 2008. Popular legal textbook that discusses legislation and court cases relating to all aspects of immigration and naturalization. Bray, Ilona. Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam, and Interview. 4th ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Nolo Press, 2008. Practical and clearly written guide explaining the advantages and disadvantages of obtaining American citizenship, as well as current American rules for naturalization. LeMay, Michael C., and Elliott Robert Barken, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Collection of 150 unabridged historical documents pertaining to immigration and naturalization issues. 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 essays on a wide variety of topics relating to citizenship and naturalization by a recognized authority on 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. Spiro, Peter J. Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Investigation into the changing nature of American identity that touches on the changing nature of citizenship and nationality in an increasingly globalized culture.
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