There are a number of benefits and privileges of obtaining citizenship or naturalizing, not the least of which is the right to vote. As a U.S. citizen, you can vote in state and federal elections, and make your voice heard on important issues like comprehensive immigration reform, for example. Moreover, you can apply for certain state and federal government jobs that require citizenship, as well as serve on juries. As a U.S. citizen, you cannot be deported or removed from the country. In addition, you can petition for certain family members, that you would not be able to sponsor as a lawful permanent resident or “green card” holder, such as brothers and sisters.Besides being born in the United States, there are a few paths to citizenship. The most common are naturalization and derivative citizenship.
In order to be eligible for citizenship generally, you must have had your green card for 5 years (3 years if married to a U.S. citizen and living together) and “continuously resided” in the U.S. for the relevant period of time. Any departures from the U.S. of over 6 months at a time creates a presumption that you have abandoned your residency, though evidence that you intended to continue to reside in the United States can rebut this presumption.
You must also show that you are a person of “good moral character” for the residency period of 3 or 5 years. There are certain mandatory bars to good moral character, including committing a crime of moral turpitude, serving active jail time of 180 days or more, providing false testimony to obtain an immigration benefit, or being an alcoholic during the required residency period. Conviction of an aggravated felony at any time is a bar to naturalization. Not paying taxes or child support, or committing “unlawful acts” during the required residency period can also prevent you from being found to have good moral character as would failure to register for the selective service for eligible men. This is not an exhaustive list, but a list of the most common reasons you could be found to lack good moral character. Immigration officers may look at your conduct before the period of required good moral character at their discretion. If you are not sure you are eligible to apply for naturalization, it is best to contact an attorney to review your case as you could be placed in removal proceedings for certain criminal conduct and deportability grounds.
Divorce and Naturalization
If you obtained your green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen and are now divorced, Immigration Officers may ask you to prove that your marriage was legitimate and not done for a green card. For this reason, it is important to look at the language of your divorce decree. Adultery that results in the dissolution of a marriage is a basis for lack of good moral character. If your divorce decree says that you have been separated for longer than you claim to the Immigration Officer, that can cause them to believe that you committed fraud in obtaining your green card through marriage and lead them to revoke your green card.
Under the Child Citizenship Act (“CCA”) of 2000, a child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen if:
1) The child has at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, by birth or naturalization;
2) The child is under 18;
3) The child is a lawful permanent resident and resides in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
Derivative citizenship is automatic, meaning a child is automatically a citizen if he or she meets all of these requirements. However, you may apply for proof of derivative citizenship using form N-600.