Citizenship in the United States - Types of Citizenship and Reasons Why Your Citizenship Can Be Taken Away.
- 2010/05/11 20:22:05
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United States citizenship confers the right to acquire a U.S. passport.
Citizenship in the United States is a status given to a legal member of the United States. It entails specific rights, duties, privileges and economic benefits including federal assistance. In accordance with the Citizenship Clause, people become citizens automatically by being born in the United States, known as birthright citizenship, or by a process known as naturalization. U.S. citizenship is not defined by an obligation to participate in politics, pay taxes, obey laws, serve in the military, or vote, although citizens can participate in politics or join the military if they choose, but rather citizenship is a legal marker identifying a person as having a bundle of rights including the right to live and work in the United States as well as be a customer of government services. Most persons who undergo naturalization do so to get permission to live and work in the nation legally. American law permits dual citizenship so it is permitted for citizens of the United States to be a citizen of another country at the same time. Citizenship can be stripped away by government or renounced by citizens, and it can also be restored; for example, General Robert E. Lee lost his birthright citizenship during the Civil War when he decided to fight for the Confederate cause, but when the war ended, his citizenship was restored by naturalization.
Birthright citizenship in the United States of America
For laws regarding US citizenship, see United States nationality law.
For US citizenship (birthright and naturalized), see Citizenship in the United States.
Birthright citizenship in the United States of America refers a person's acquisition of United States citizenship by virtue of the circumstances of his or her birth. It contrasts with citizenship acquired in other ways, for example by naturalization later in life. Birthright citizenship may be conferred either by jus soli and jus sanguinis. Under United States law, any person born within the United States (including the overseas territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands)  and subject to its jurisdiction is automatically granted U.S. citizenship,  as are many (though not all) children born to American citizens overseas.
The agency in charge of admitting new citizens is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, commonly abbreviated as USCIS. It is a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. It offers web-based services. The agency depends for revenue on application fees; in 2009, with a struggling economy, applications were down sharply, and consequently there was much less revenue to upgrade and streamline services. 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. The USCIS has made efforts to digitize records. A USCIS website says the "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is committed to offering the best possible service to you, our customer" and which says "With our focus on customer service, we offer you a variety of services both before and after you file your case." 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. The USCIS processes cases in the order they're received.
 Pathways to citizenship
* Requirements. 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're elderly or disabled.
* 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, one account suggested 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." The option was not open to illegal immigrants. One estimate was that in 2009 the US military had 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving who were not American citizens. Generally, spouses of citizens, and non-citizens who served in the military, have less difficulty becoming citizens. Generally there is a strong link between military service and citizenship. 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." Immigrant soldiers who fight for the US often have an easier and faster path to citizenship. In 2002, President Bush signed an executive order to eliminate the three-year waiting period and made service personnel immediately eligible for citizenship. 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. 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. By June 2003, 12 non-citizens had died fighting for the United States in the Iraqi war. The military has had a tradition of "filling out its ranks" with aliens living in the U.S. Non-citizens fought in World War II. The military has struggled to "fill its depleted ranks" by recruiting more non-US citizens. 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."
* 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. 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.
* Amnesties have happened in the past in which illegal residents could petition for citizenship if they could prove that they had been living in the nation for a specified number of years.
* Citizenship test. Last, applicants must pass a simple citizenship test. 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?" At one point, the Government Printing Office sold flashcards for $8.50 to help test takers prepare for the test. 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." One reviewer described the new citizenship test as "thoughtful." 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. Six correct answers constitutes a passing grade. The new test probes for signs that immigrants "understand and share American values."
There are several reasons why a naturalized US citizen could lose his or her US citizenship. We feel it’s important to summarize these reasons. As a naturalized citizen, you went to all the trouble to get your US citizenship in the first place. We’d hate to see you lose it merely because you did something wrong you did not know about.
Involuntarily Losing Your US Citizenship (Denaturalization)
Both the State Department and the USCIS have specfic laws and regulations they must follow in determining whether someone’s US citizenship should be taken away.
1. Convicted For An Act Of Treason Against The United States
Treason is a serious crime, and the Constitution defines the requirements for convicting someone of treason. Treason is waging a violent war against the United States in cooperation with a foreign country or any organized group. It includes assisting or aiding any foreign country or organization in taking over or destroying this country including abolishing the Constitution. Treason also consists of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the US government or of betraying our government into the hands of a foreign power. If you are caught and convicted of treason, you can pretty much count on losing your US citizenship as well as serving lots of jail time.
2. Holding A Policy Level Position In A Foreign Country
If you become an elected official or hold a policy-level position (like an ambassador, cabinet minister, or any high level administrative position where you make government policy) in your native country or a foreign country, you run the risk of losing your US citizenship. On the other hand, if you hold a non-policy level job like working in your native country’s embassy or working for your native country’s government in an advisory or purely administrative capacity, you run little risk of jeopardizing your US citizenship. For further information, see the State Department’s circular: ADVICE ABOUT POSSIBLE LOSS OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND SEEKING PUBLIC OFFICE IN A FOREIGN STATE.
3. Serving In Your Native Country’s Armed Forces If That Country Is Engaged In Hostilities Or At War With The United States
If your native country is engaged in hostile actions or is at war with America you need to be extremely careful. The US government will attempt to take away your US citizenship if they find out you are either aiding or serving in your native country’s armed forces in any capacity. Alternatively, the US government could try to nail you with a treason conviction and then strip you of your US citizenship.
4. Serving In Your Native Country’s Armed Forces As An Officer Or A Non-Commissioned Officer
If your native country is not at war with or engaged in hostilities towards the US, then serving in your native country’s armed forces is OK as long as you are not an officer or non-commissioned officer (usually the rank of sergeant or above). Serving as a civilian worker in your native country’s armed forces, or serving as an enlisted man or women are generally acceptable. For further information, see the State Department’s circular: ADVICE ABOUT POSSIBLE LOSS OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND FOREIGN MILITARY SERVICE.
The State Department has set several administrative guidelines for dual citizens to follow in order to avoid losing their US citizenship ( ADVICE ABOUT POSSIBLE LOSS OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND DUAL NATIONALITY ). The four reasons for losing US citizenship cited above were taken from these guidelines. We strongly suggest that you carefully review these guidelines if you are planning on maintaining dual citizenship. As you review the guidelines keep in mind that the State Department is primarily referring to native-born US citizens who become dual citizens by being naturalized in another foreign country. The guidelines are also applicable to naturalized US citizens who maintain their original citizenship.
5. Lying To The USCIS During The Naturalization Process
If you deliberately withheld information from or misrepresented information given to the USCIS or INS when filing your N-400, the USCIS may cancel your Certificate of Naturalization and revoke your US citizenship. This includes withholding information and misrepresenting yourself during your naturalization interview or oath ceremony. If your Certificate of Naturalization is cancelled and your US citizenship revoked, you may also find yourself facing criminal prosecution as well as deportation proceedings.
For example, if you lived outside the country for four months and deliberately omitted this absence from your N-400 and the USCIS finds out about it after you’re naturalized, they could move to have your Certificate of Naturalization cancelled. All they would need to show is that your absence would have disqualifed you from or materially affected your naturalization due to the “physical presence in the United States” requirement for naturalization applicants.
You may also lose your US citizenship if you withheld information or misled the USCIS or INS when becoming a permanent resident. If within five years of becoming a permanent resident, the USCIS finds out that you withheld information from them or misled them in order to obtain your green card, the USCIS may also strip you of your US citizenship. Of course, after five years from becoming a permanent resident, the only way the USCIS would be able to take away your US citizenship would be if you withheld or misrepresented yourself during the naturalization process.
The above examples illustrates why you need to be both truthful and accurate when filing for naturalization and permanent residency. You don’t want to give the USCIS any ammunition they could use against you later if they or someone else (like a politician or government bureaucrat) is looking for any means to get rid of you.
6. Refusal To Testify Before Congress About Your Subversive Activities
We included this legal provision for completeness. If you refuse to testify before Congress within ten years of being naturalized regarding your involvement in any subversive activities, the Attorney General can move to have your US citizenship revoked [ 8 USC 1451(a) ]. Subversive activities are not well defined but include activities such as spying, belonging to a terrorist or other organization wanting to overthrow the US, or other activities aimed at undermining our government [50 USC 783 & 843, 18 USC Ch. 115]. Of course, if you do testify before Congress about your subversive activities, you may still lose your citizenship if your testimony is later used to convict you of treason.
US Courts and Immigration Attorneys as Safeguards
Fortunately, it’s not as easy to take away your citizenship and Certificate of Naturalization as the law reads. Even if you were not entirely truthful or forthcoming during the naturalization process, the USCIS just can’t arbitrarily revoke your citizenship. Citizenship is one of those fundamental rights that our third branch of government (the judicial branch) takes very seriously. It appears the USCIS runs into difficulty with the federal courts when the USCIS revokes someone’s citizenship without giving the accused his or her day in court (no matter how blatant the violation of the law, see - Challenge to INS Denaturalization Procedure ).
In other words, the only way you are going to lose your US citizenship and Certificate of Naturalization is in a federal court and by a federal judge, who is appointed for life, makes good money, and is answerable to no politician or government bureaucrat no matter how on popular the judge's decision turns out to be.
If any of these situations listed apply to you now or could in the future, we strongly suggest you seek the legal advice of an immigration attorney experienced in US citizenship law. Your US citizenship is too valuable to risk losing because you don’t fully understand the law and the possible consequences of your actions. Here is a brief listing of websites for immigration attorneys:
American Immigration Lawyers Association &n... ILW.com: The Immigration Portal
Open Directory (Google) - Immigration Lawyers
Voluntarily Losing Your US Citizenship (Renunciation)
After becoming a naturalized US citizen, you always have the option of renouncing your US citizenship. Beware though, if you renounce US citizenship, you will most likely be barred from living in the United States (there are exceptions), and can never become a US citizen again.
In order to renounce your US citizenship, you have to physically be outside the US and it’s possessions when renouncing. So if you ever plan on renouncing your citizenship, make sure you have a country to live in (no doubts about your citizenship and residency status) and renounce your US citizenship there. For further information, see the State Department’s circular: Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship.
Can a person voluntarily renounce their US citizenship and still live in the US? Can you get your green card back or a new green card? The answer to these questions is technically yes, but it is going to be a legally complicated process. You will most definitely need the advice and help of an immigration attorney to attempt such a legal maneuver. You will still have to renounce your US citizenship outside the US, and then need some type of visa or immigration papers to return to the US as a resident. Keep in mind, the US government will probably resist you every legal step of the way, and there is no guarantee of success. For further information, see the State Department’s circular: RENUNCIATION OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP BY PERSONS CLAIMING A RIGHT OF RESIDENCE IN THE UNITED STATES.
Voluntarily renouncing your US citizenship should not be taken lightly. Once you renounce your citizenship, it is nearly impossible to get it back. You will lose all the benefits of US citizenship including US residency and your US passport, and you will likely still be held responsible for paying any past, current or future US taxes (which is the primary reason why most people want to renounce their US citizenship). For further information, see the State Department’s circular: LOSS OF NATIONALITY AND TAXATION (please scroll down to this topic after you open this web page).
What if I lose my Certificate of Naturalization?
Losing your Certificate of Naturalization is not the same as losing US citizenship. You haven’t lost your citizenship—all you lost is your proof of citizenship. Of course, if the USCIS can’t find your naturalization records, you may have some problems proving your citizenship and could face detention and deportation proceedings. That’s why we highly recommend making backup copies of your Certificate of Naturalization and storing the original in a secure place (see Securely Store Your Certificate of Naturalization for more information).
If, after all the precautions we recommended to you about storing and protecting your Certificate of Naturalization, your certificate is somehow lost or destroyed, well guess what, you’ re going to have to deal with the USCIS all over again to get it replaced. Please go to USCIS: Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document.
Good luck and please be patient. It usually takes at least a year to get a new certificate.
Websites With Further Information On Losing Your US Citizenship
CHANG & BOOS - LOSS OF CITIZENSHIP AND DUAL NATIONALITY A good summary of the recent policy changes to dual citizenship in the US and how, as a dual citizen, you can lose your US citizenship (uses Canadians as an example, but the legal principles generally apply to other countries that allow dual citizenship like Mexico or Italy for example).
The following website by the US embassy in Australia has an excellent summary regarding the US policy on dual citizenship and losing US citizenship. U.S. Policy on Dual Nationality
State Department’s website: Citizenship and Nationality
Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) : The laws pertaining to loss of citizenship (or loss of nationality) and revocation of naturalization are found in Sections (ACT) 340 and 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The regulations and procedures that the federal government are required to follow when implementing any law such as the Immigration and Nationality Act are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Click here for the corresponding CFRs pertaining to Sections 340 and 349 of the INA. The CFR part numbers will be the same as the INA section numbers.
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