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Getting U.S. Citizenship Requires Just Two Things
Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert
Washington, DC
Wednesday, October 27, 2021


Getting US Citizenship Requires Just Two Things

By Peggy Sands Orchowski

I wonder if the some 50 immigration activists who gathered in front of the U.S. Vice President's mansion last Sunday Oct 24 on a beautiful warm fall day in Washington DC waving signs and chanting: "We demand citizenship for all", know that VP Kamala Harris has absolutely no power to grant anyone citizenship. Neither does President Biden for that matter. Only Congress has that power. It's stated in one sentence in Article One, Section 8 of the U.S. constitution: Congress is "to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization".


That ultimately meant legislation. But from 1786 and through the next century or so, the U.S. Congress punted the ball to the States. They let each state decide which non-citizens living in their jurisdictions would be allowed to take the oath of naturalization (btw, the oath is the same one used today where the immigrant-who-is-soon-to-become-a-citizen must swear loyalty to the United States and to  "abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen").   After the 1880s and the civil war that saw many state activities revert to the federal government, citizenship requirements became embedded in evolving national immigration laws. 


Today simply put, a non-citizen who wants to become a U.S. citizen – an American - must do two things: First they must reside in the United States for at least five years (with some exceptions) under a Permanent Legal Resident permit – aka a green card. Then if they are eligible, they can start the application process if they want to. 


The green card is key. It is the "path to citizenship". No one can apply for citizenship from a temporary legal permit – work, study, visitor, etc -- nor especially if they are living in the country illegally. Congress would have to change the laws or offer a special one-time amnesty (as they did in 1986) for those. That's why most advocatereject "legalization" for illegals -- a parole or temporary protected status (asylee), or other temporary permit. They want a way that  millions of unauthorized immigrants in the country can get a permanent green or immigration card immediately and not have to go through the lengthy legal procedure everyone else has to.


But here's the other requirement that may be harder to overcome by activists. The green card holder must CHOOSE TO APPLY for citizenship once eligible. It is never automatic nor required. Permanent resident permit holders need never apply for citizenship in order to stay in the country their whole lives, with almost all the rights of citizens except the right to vote. In fact, the majority of green card holders wait ten years or more to apply and many never do. 


Becoming a citizen in the US is a relatively easy process compared to other countries. Indeed, the US is unique in that we welcome, even expect immigrants to have dreamed all their lives of becoming a loyal American. But even former Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), an avid voice for permanent permits for all immigrants, said "Most of the undocumented immigrants who get green cards will never become citizens".


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“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been”. Vice President of the Brookings Institution Darrell West wrote in recommending Peggy Sands Orchowski’s books   "The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965" and  "Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2008 respectively).  Peggy is a credentialed Senior Congressional journalist in Washington DC. She is available for interviews, article assignments and speaking engagements about immigration   porchowski@hotmail.com

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Name: Peggy Sands Orchowski
Title: Senior Congressional Correspondent
Dateline: Washington, DC United States
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