By Emanuela P. Leaf
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last month released a series of promotional materials to raise awareness about the rights, responsibilities and importance of U.S. citizenship and provide information on the naturalization process and USCIS educational resources.
The promotional campaign guides lawful permanent residents towards the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center (http://www.uscis.gov/citizenship) for official, accurate and reliable information on citizenship and naturalization topics.
“USCIS is proud to expand its efforts to assist those eligible for citizenship – the highest privilege of our nation’s immigration system – to take the necessary steps to complete their journey,” said USCIS Director León Rodríguez. “Through this initiative, USCIS continues to emphasize the importance of citizenship to both individuals and the nation while providing free preparation tools for aspiring citizens.”
Green card holders who meet all eligibility requirements may apply for citizenship after five years, or three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen.
But What Are the Benefits and Responsibilities of Citizenship?
The Constitution and laws of the United States give many rights to both citizens and non-citizens living in the U.S. However, some rights are only for citizens, such as:
- Voting. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. Most states also restrict the right to vote in most elections to U.S. citizens.
- Bringing family members to the United States. Citizens generally get priority when petitioning to bring family members permanently to this country.
- Obtaining citizenship for children born abroad. In most cases, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen is automatically a U.S. citizen.
- Traveling with a U.S. passport. A U.S. passport allows you to get assistance from the U.S. government when overseas.
- Becoming eligible for federal jobs. Most jobs with government agencies require U.S. citizenship.
- Becoming an elected official. Many elected offices in this country require U.S. citizenship.
- Showing your patriotism. Becoming a U.S. citizen is a way to demonstrate your commitment to your new country.
The above list does not include all the benefits of citizenship, only some of the more important ones.
To become a U.S. citizen you must take the Oath of Allegiance. The oath includes several promises you make when you become a U.S. citizen, including promises to:
- Give up all prior allegiance to any other nation or sovereign nation;
- Swear allegiance to the United States;
- Support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States; and
- Serve the country when required. U.S. citizens have many responsibilities other than the ones mentioned in the oath. Citizens have a responsibility to participate in the political process by registering and voting in elections or serving on a jury.
“When you decide to become a U.S. citizen, you should be willing to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship. We hope you will honor and respect the freedoms and opportunities citizenship gives you. At the same time, we hope you become an active member of your community. It is by participating in your community that you truly become an American,” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website states.
Vivian Alves, 28, a Financial Accounting major at Sacred Heart University, was ready, willing and able.
“Being a resident of Connecticut since I was 3 years old most definitely inspired me to become a citizen. The U.S. has given me so much, from an education, work opportunities and other needs, such as health care and Social Security, that I believe I would never have access in my native country of Brazil,” says Alves, who waited 25 years for the legalization process to reach the point where she would be eligible for citizenship. “I can assure anyone that the U.S. is truly a land of freedom.”
To her, the most remarkable benefit of becoming a U.S. Citizen is the ability to vote.
“As a citizen, my opinion in the U.S. government matters and knowing that I have a ‘say’ is truly a benefit for me. The first thing I did after my oath ceremony was register to vote, and I cannot wait until the 2016 presidential elections!”
According to the most recent analysis by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, an estimated 8.8 million lawful permanent residents are eligible to apply for citizenship, and the median time spent as a lawful permanent resident before becoming a United States citizen is seven years.
“I would advise everyone who can apply for citizenship to do so as soon as possible,” Alves said “The benefits are without a doubt much better than as a permanent resident. And becoming a citizen shows how committed you are to this country and that you will gain and respect the freedom and opportunities that comes with citizenship.”
For more information on the U.S. Citizenship process, visit http://www.uscis.gov/citizenship.